This weekend, I decided to dig through more idea files for this blog that have been filed away in the hallway closet for the last five years. Research notes on the subject of ostracism caught my eye and produced a flood of memories. In light of recent events, reading through that file, caused me to reflect upon the impact of early childhood experiences….
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been an optimal target for bullies. In fact, as the “girl with the cooties”, bullying has always been a constant issue: from kindergarten at St. Agnes up through high school graduation. Admittedly, the bullies changed from year to year, but they all saw me the same way. I was the perfect target: I am highly sensitive and don’t fight back….
For those who have never been bullied, you’d be surprised to learn that the actual bullying isn’t the worst of it. The collateral damage it sustains upon your social life is devastating. You see, when you get picked on often enough at school people start to notice and a reputation develops. Now a “loser”, you’re essentially walking around with a scarlet letter tattooed to your forehead. Hapless bystanders, silently observe the altercations but do nothing. Instead they pretend not to notice. Fearing for their own well-being and hoping to retain their status within the social hierarchy, you’re now a social leper. A “dork-by-association” rule starts to govern all social interactions with you. Should someone dare say “hi” or strike up a conversation, they’ll hear about it later: “what the hell are you doing hanging out with that wierdo?!?!”
After my best friend moved away in sixth grade, school became a scary place. No one was in my corner. Classmates avoided me and adults were oblivious to my problems. The only attention my existence garnered from this point forward were the bullies at school. As a resulted I started thinking being ignored was better than being made fun of. I choose to make myself as invisible as possible. During lunch I rarely ate and retreated to my favorite hiding spot, (the girls gym lockers in high school). In class I sat in back, far away from everyone. Finally, I learned avoided all eye contact and never spoke to anybody. In time everybody did ignore me. It worked like a charm…
“I’m 40 years old now; it’s been something like 30 years since that sort of thing last happened. Still, the experience has not left me, it sucked so much. I don’t think about it much these days, but I know that having lived through those experiences has shaped me as an adult, and not for the better (Dombeck, 2007).”
I’ve tried my best to overcome the effects of this prolonged isolation, however it hasn’t been easy. There is a piece missing that can’t be refilled. Radical acceptance has been essential in coming to terms with what I can’t change. I will always be an introvert. I might always struggle with social anxiety. However, I can also try and reach out. I am taking chances and opening up to others. Hopefully in time I can begin to establish a few meaningful friendships…
A nice group of ladies at work meets regularly on their days off for lunch. They take turns picking a favorite restaurant and get together to chat. These experiences are rare treats for me. I cherish opportunities for friendship and inclusion, since I never experienced this as a child. Over the course of our conversations they’ve been nice enough to provide some useful feedback that mirrors this distant history. I can be difficult to approach and am often act closed off from others. I have also been slow to trust and open up. Not surprisingly, these research notes on ostracism put things into perspective. Before I discuss the subject of ostracism, it’s important to first consider the long-term effects of bullying. The bullying explains not only why I was ostracized but how I adapted to it through a self-imposed isolation. With this in mind I want to mention briefly an online article by psychologist, Mark Dombeck (2007). It summarizes effectively the long term effects of bullying. Since his article resonates with my own experiences, here are a few relevant points about the long-term effects of bullying:
Shame & Self-Loathing
As a form of emotional abuse, Dombeck (2007), notes that bullying is an attempt to instill shame and self-loathing within the vicious realm of social politics at your typical American school. “The primary wound that bullying victims suffer…is damage to their self-concepts; to their identities” (Dombeck, 2007). The DSM-5 describes identity as an “experience of oneself as unique, with clear boundaries between self and others (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 823)”. In a recent blog post, I discuss the nature of identity and my own “go-it-alone-mentality”. Attempting to understand the mindset of the crowd-follower, I learned about identity motives as: “pressures toward certain identity states and away from others” (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 309)”. In other words, our identity is influenced by wanted and unwanted potential identities. We try to magnify positive characteristics and minimize the negatives. While research in this post describes a diversity of identity motives, my own development was centered around a need to belong.
Depressed, angry & bitter…
Over time, victims of prolonged bullying internalize the messsages they receive (Dombeck, 2007). This results in a wounded self-concept where meaning in one’s existence is difficult to find. A deep depression sets in as you realize your situation is inescapable. However, another insidious reaction to bullying can also emerge and eat you alive:
“Inevitably, it is the sensitive kids who get singled out for teasing; the kids who cry easily; the easy targets. Targeted as they are, many sensitive kids learn to think of their sensitivity as a bad thing and to avoid it, and/or channel it into revenge fantasy and anger” (Dombeck, 2007).
Dombeck, (2007) states when forced to repeatedly encounter a lack of control in the midst of a traumatic event, a state of learned helplessness can emerge. It is common as a response to prolonged bullying and ostracism (Dombeck, 2007; Twenge, et al, 2003; Williams, 2007). This was a huge issue for me. Romantic relationships reflect the relationship we have with ourselves: we attract what we are. With this in mind, learned helplessness set me up for that traumatic relationship in college. I also associate these early experiences of bullying and ostracism with the emergence of dissociation as a coping tool. However I’m probably getting ahead of myself….We’ll get to that later…
Dombeck, (2007) states that bully-victims in adulthood cam display an “Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur”. A childhood filled with painful peer-relations left me with an anxious avoidant attachment style. Currently, these anxieties are limited to situations in which I see potential for new friendships emerging. It is a monkey wrench in my attempts to establish friendships. Overcoming this has taken quite a bit of effort as I’ve learned to let go of those old traumas and open up to others.
Against a backdrop of bullying in elementary school, I grew into a depressed, angry, insecure & bitter teenager filled with self-loathing. Internalizing the shame-laden messages of my bullies, I honestly felt there was something wrong with me. I felt completely helpless. In my small hometown my options were limited to the classmates who loathed me. My sister continually pointed out my ineptness. My parents told me to “ignore them and be myself”. The school counselor verified my worst fears, and told me to just “ride it out”. After all, high school is only four years. Yup. These are the precipitating events which led to the social isolation which followed.
Social ostracism defined…
Ostracism is defined as an act ignoring or excluding an individual without any clear explanation for one’s own social benefit and/or self protection (Williams, 2097). In contrast, rejection is an explicit declaration that you do not wish to keep company of someone. Finally, isolation involves a self-imposed state of aloneness, where you avoid opportunities to socialize with others.
What is uniquely painful about ostracism, is that it’s not of your choosing and you don’t get to know why it’s happening (Leary, 2001). This ambiguity begins with subtle cues such avoiding of eye contact or excluding you from conversations. It culminates in bewilderment due to an absence of explanations. One resource I found describes a unique form of ostracism that pertains to my own experiences:
“role-prescribed ostracism is a socially-sanctioned form of ostracism, occurring when individuals are not expected to acknowledge the presence of others” (Leary, 2001, p. 29).
In this form of ostracism, the act is reflective of implicit social rules that individuals were required to respect. In my school there was a very clique-defined social order. The social politics were very nasty and terrifying. With no one to back me up, the ostracism was painful, simply as an ongoing reinforcement of my role as the “girl with cooties”…
Ostracism significantly threatens our fundamental need to belong (Williams, 2007). As it pertains to identity development, belonging can be thought of as a drive to feel accepted and validated by others, (Vignoles, et al, 2006). In the event that belonging is threatened we are “motivated to attend more carefully to social cues” (Williams, 2007, p. 431). Social anxiety takes over and self-esteem becomes a a “gauge for relational valuation” (Williams, 2007 p. 431). The mind becomes adept at noting signs of a potential threat. However, over time the anxiety builds. Your ability to accurately interpret others’ motives becomes impaired:
Initial physiological responses to ostracism include elevated blood pressure, increased cortisol levels, indicitive of a fight-or-flight response (Williams, 2007). Additionally, research participants report heightened distress after experiencing social ostracism (Williams, 2007). I liken this insight to the notion of a deer in headlights, or rabbits sitting motionless in the grass. As a bullied child, ostracism was a painful reminder of my social leper status. However, in my case it was the lesser of two evils: a painful price to pay for avoiding the potential attacks on my lousy self-image. Williams, (2007) notes that ostracized individuals can respond in a variety of ways. They can adapt and learn to conform, fight back, or give up. An individual’s level of rejection sensitivity determines how they choose to respond (Williams, 2007):
“Individuals who score high on rejection sensitivity tend to chronically expect rejection…lonely people may take longer to recover from ostracism and may [display] helplessness more” (Williams, 2007, p. 439).
When ostracism becomes chronic…
My bedroom was a private retreat where I could finally remove myself from the constant anxiety-filled bullshit at school. The emotional aftermath of that day’s events could slowly melt away. I was able to reflect upon what went down. The inevitable conclusion I always came to was that I was helpless. All I could do was “take it like a man”. In time my own favorite method of coping was the freeze response:
“Another reaction to stress is to freeze, as we commonly think a deer does when facing a headlight… a concussed or affectively numb response” (Williams, 2007, p. 431)
Several resources I’ve found mention a “freeze-response” (Williams, 2007) to prolonged ostracism. Twenge, et al, (2003), describe this freeze response as a “defensive state of cognitive deconstruction that avoids meaningful thought, emotion, and self-awareness, and is characterized by lethargy and altered time flow” (p. 409). When no solution is available, emotional numbness becomes the only alternative. Holding one’s feelings out of awareness is the only way to survive prolonged distress of this nature. Leary, (2001) adds that “with repeated long-term exposure to ostracism…a prolonged lack of belonging-ness may lead to a feeling that one does not belong anywhere” (p. 31). Williams, (2007) describes this state as similar to the flattened affect and detached state preceding a suicide attempt. Finally, it is worth noting that these descriptions reflect the DSM’s description of dissociative PTSD symptoms succinctly….
“Chronically excluded individuals will be hypersensitive to signals of social threat rather than attempting to fortify thwarted needs, they appear more likely to exhibit learned helplessness and alienation…rather than seeking belonging, they accepted alienation and isolation; rather than seeking self-enhancement, they accepted low self-worth; rather than seeking control, they expressed helplessness; and rather than provoking recognition by others of their existence, they became depressed and avoided further painful rejection….Ostracized individuals report a feeling of invisibility, that their existence is not even recognized” (Twenge, 2004, p. 421).
Now What??? (((A look forward)))
This post reflects an exercise in putting current issues I’m struggling with into a historical context. By applying insights from research to early childhood experiences, the blame is no longer placed squarely upon my shoulders. I can stop asking myself “what the hell is wrong with you Kathleen”. Instead constructive insight is available as a reminder that these social anxieties reflect old issues and not present realities….
American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC: Author.
Leary, M. R. (2001). Interpersonal rejection. New York: Oxford University Press (US).
Sommer, K. L., Williams, K. D., Ciarocco, N. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2001). When silence speaks louder than words: Explorations into the intrapsychic and interpersonal consequences of social ostracism. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 23(4), 225-243.
Twenge, J. M., Catanese, K. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2003). Social exclusion and the deconstructed state: time perception, meaninglessness, lethargy, lack of emotion, and self-awareness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(3), 409-423.
Vignoles, V. L., Regalia, C., Manzi, C., Golledge, J., & Scabini, E. (2006). Beyond self-esteem: influence of multiple motives on identity construction. Journal of personality and social psychology, 90(2), 308-333.
Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Psychology, 58(1), 425-252.
“In my own defense”, I was really a deer in headlights.
A consistent diet of ostracism & bullying left me with a skewed perception of myself. I left home with this emotional hot potato…
Despite the advent of technology – or largely due to it – it seems as if the world has transformed into a lonely place. Social media can connect us together 24:7. Every second of our day we hold in our pocket a device that connects us with communities of online friendships…..
……however, something gets lost in the translation with online friendships. The interaction seems so superficial and contrived. The “self” we project is an idealized form. As my mother rightly noted, Facebook seems more like a “brag book” than an alternative mode of communication. Others interact with us through posts and likes that somehow reflect to many a sign of approval. If no one responds you think, “why??” ….
The most disturbing aspect of the social media world ix the collectivist nature of interactions.
Pluralistic ignorance is at an all time high and independent thinking is oftentimes an abhorrent violation of mainstream sensibilities. There is this need for political correctness from the overly-sensitive who perplexingly lack basic social skills and empathy. Like minded folks interact with one another and communicate in a mutual support of shared ideals. An us versus them mentality can arise as we simultaneously reject and rebuke those who have views that disagree with ours.
A convenient case and point might be a few of my husband’s Facebook friends who are staunch conservatives. If I make s comment that contradicts theirs I might be called a snowflake. Much gets lost in the translation as my desire for a discussion through the offering of a divergent viewpoint, turns into something unintended.
I simply have no patience at this point for people are unwilling to take time to see the real me.
They don’t know who you are and interactions take that “social nicety” superficiality that barely scratches the surface of what lies within. I can’t be bothered with the idea that I must respond to the “how are you doing” question with some equivalent of “oh fine”. People perceive others on the other side of the screen in terms of preconceived notions. These preconceived notions have a life all their own.
For instance, if you work with me your understanding of who I am is limited to this context. Then old classmates from high school still remember the girl with cooties who they avoided. Much is lost in the translation as each preconceived notion pales in comparison to the whole and complete me.
It is for these reasons I can’t really get into the whole Facebook thing. I’m not begrudging others for their love of it, or saying Facebook sucks. It’s just that this venue of interaction does not meet my specific needs at this time in life. I’d rather have one or two good friends to hang out with or chat on the phone to “Facebook friendships”…,
This series has served as a writing exercise “of sorts” that can allow me to work through feelings of shame that still remain. As is typical with a child’s-eye-view of the world, I perceived life as if it revolved around me. This self-centered viewpoint, made it difficult, to varying degrees, for me to see others’ perspectives. As a sensitive child, I tended to take all the bullying and ostracism of my childhood personally. By the time I reached high school graduation, all I wanted to do is put as much space (physically and chronologically) from this experience as I could. I remember leaving for college with huge hopes. However, it quickly became apparent that this would require a significant amount of effort on my own part. It’s only in the last decade of my life, that I’ve taken time to look back at these experiences without feelings of self-blame and hatred welling up inside me. I’ve learned to accept the fact that there are those from my past who may never see me beyond an outdated set of preconceived notions. In a way, this series represents the final step in the long process of healing, forgiveness, and acceptance.
In the wound-licking phase, I simply began to work through the unresolved hurt instead of burying it…
This process started in my later 30’s when I first sought out a therapist because I felt “Stuck”. It took a while to understand the nature of this stuckness & what was holding me back. Until this point, my life was like an invisible minefield. There were some things – things that reminded me of events I was trying to forget – that became excruciating. It was all too much, so I spent time going through the motions and checked out on the basement sofa watching t.v. like a mindless blob. Or I would nap, my other favorite maladaptive coping tool. I began to see a therapist, I completed a DBT course, worked on the relationship with my sister and slowly, I somehow felt safe in the world. In time, this healing allowed me to gain some clarity by viewing directly things that had previously been too I was empowered with a solution the problem that involved action on my part.
However, more needed to be done. Feelings of shame and invalidation had plagued me. That is, until my mother recommended I read this book….
PART ONE: The Consequences of being an “Other” (i.e. biracial / mixed race)…
ME = “One of those things that is not like the other”
I usually call my mother once every two weeks just to see how she’s doing. At some point in the conversation, I am usually provided an update on the “local gossip”. During one of these conversations, my mother mentioned an old classmate of mine: May-lee Chai. She was a senior in high school while I was a freshman. We didn’t know each other well and I only remember as one of the many faces I passed by in the halls between classes. At any rate, she asked me if I heard about that book she had written: “Hapa Girl: A Memoir”. She said bought a copy and urged me to read it, since she felt it might “resonate” with my own childhood experiences….
When I first read it, I remember reflecting on my childhood from a new perspective. Until this point I thought it was “all my fault”. This book helped me to contextualize my experiences. There were forces much larger than me at work…
So where do I start? How can I begin to adequately describe my own experience of being biracial? How have I dealt with the idea that I’m not perceived as I am? What is it like to live between world’s? What follows are random thoughts, in no particular order….
In the video above, the narrator describes the twins as “black and white”. Based on phenotype characteristics that each girl carries, they are so labeled. It amazes me, how people are so quick to forget that the meatsuits we wear, don’t accurately reflect what dwells within us. In reality, there are four abstract constructs which together are effective in developing a basic understanding of a biracial individual’s experience of race. Together they explain what it is like to live within an unclear “in-between” space. These constructs are: (1) genotype; (2) phenotype; (3) identity; & (4) culture. Understanding how they converge within an individual’s life can help quite a bit in explaining their racial identity. They are useful in understanding the diversity of experiences amongst biracial experiences, as well as the issue of colorism…
FACTORS 1 & 2: Genotype vs. Phenotype…
Genotype refers to the DNA you carry within you. You get half from your mother and half from your father. For example, at geneaology.com they studies of populations around the world. When individuals are isolated historically these populations tend to share genes for traits that are conducive to survival in that area. When you submit a test at genealogy.com, they tell you what subsets of the human population are present in your genes.
Phenotype has to do with your physical features, how do you look? What is the color of your skin, your face shape, and hair color? The point is, you can have the same set of parents, but inherit different subsets. Therefore, two genetically biracial individuals can have very different appearances.
Critical Point #1 – regarding these two factors, I have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem. This means I am not what I am. Due to the random qualities that define my meat suit, I am classified within a preconceived ideas that do not relate to my own lived experience of self…
FACTOR 3: What is Identity?
The DSM-5 Manual defines Identity as follows: “[the] experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others; stability of self-esteem and accuracy of self appraisal; capacity for, and ability to regulate, a range of emotional experience.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823). As a biracial individual the experience of how others see us diverges from the inner knowing of who they are. Regarding how others’ experience, I feel as if I’m a man inside a monkey suit wearing upon my being the preconceived notions of others. I wait for somebody to see within to the real me, but it happens rarely. R.D. Laing (1990), summarizes this experience succinctly in his book “The Divided Self”. In contrast, the description of our inner sense of self is best described in my old course textbook (Corsini & Wedding, 2013).
Critical Point #2: “The usual sense of the self as being who we ‘really are’ and as being continuous and consistent over time seems to be an illusory construction of imprecise awareness….similar to the ‘flicker fusion phenomenon’ by which photographs projected successively on a movie screen…we suffer from a case of mistaken identity. We are not who, or even what, we thought we were. What we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013, p467).
FACTOR 4: What is culture?
Culture provides another set of mental programs relevant to a society (Chung & Bemak, 2002). It consists of a shared system of meanings within society that define modes of expression and communication, (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). It influences how we view the world around us and sets the normative standards for behavior (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). As a form of “mental programming” (Chung & Bemak, 2002, p282), it defines our value systems and preferred ways of thinking and feeling.
Critical Factor #3: I was given two diverging, (and frequently oppositional) cultural perspectives. Nobody fully understood this and I was largely left on my own to feel my way in the dark…
While working on my master’s degree, I was working and had little time for anything else. On the back burner, I placed everything unnecessary and “survival” became my priority. I remember reading various articles for homework assignments and being “highly intrigued” by the information I was taking in. It held information that was interesting personally as well as professionally. As I work through this blog, I continue digging through files of things I’ve save, with the intention of “bloggging on it” when time would allow. Here I am about a year later – finally getting around to it.
“individuals who live at the juncture between two cultures and can lay a claim to belonging to both cultures, either by being of mixed racial heritage or born in one culture and raised in a second, should be considered marginal people. Park suggested that marginality leads to psychological conflict, a divided self, and disjointed person” (LaFromboise, et al, 1993, p. 395)
I have these piles of folders divided into subject categories. Inside them are copies of assorted notes, assignments, and articles that I’ve printed with ideas jotted in the margins. The quote above does an excellent job of describing succinctly, how I’ve felt as a biracial individual with a broad-based culturally diverse perspective of the world. The Sesame Street video below describes my experiences as an individual who lives between worlds. I am both my mother and father, yet I am also like neither of them….
ME = Three of these kids belong together. Three of these kids are kind of the same. But one of these kids (i.e. me) is doing his own thing
“The Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”
So without boring you to death, I want to quickly review this article titled: “They Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”, as a jumping off point. This article begins by describing what individual’s need to be culturally competent to function in a society.
“In order to be culturally competent, an individual would have to (a) possess a strong personal identity, (b) have knowledge of and facility with the beliefs and values of the culture, (c) display sensitivity to the affective processes of the culture, (d) communicate clearly in the language of the given cultural group, (e) perform socially sanctioned behavior, (f) maintain active social relations within the cultural group, and (g) negotiate the institutional structures of that culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 395).
This article the provides an overview of different models utilized in research, to describe the varied transitions that occur between an immigrant and the country he has chosen to reside in. What follows is a “quick and dirty” overview….
ASSIMILATION: “The underlying assumption of all assimilation models is that a member of one culture loses his or her original cultural identity as he or she acquires a new identity in a second culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 396).
ACCULTURATION: “assimilation approach emphasizes that individuals, their offspring, or their cultural group will eventually become full members of the majority group’s culture and lose identification with their culture of origin. By contrast, the acculturation model implies that the individual, while becoming a competent participant in the majority culture, will always be identified as a member of the minority culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 397).
ALTERNATION: “The alternation model of second-culture acquisition assumes that it is possible for an individual to know and understand two different cultures. It also supposes that an individual can alter his or her behavior to fit a particular social context.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 400).
MULTICULTURAL: “The multicultural model promotes a pluralistic approach to understanding the relationship between two or more cultures. This model addresses the feasibility of cultures maintaining distinct identities while individuals from one culture work with those of other cultures to serve common national or economic needs. In this model it is recognized that it may not be geographic or social isolation per se that is the critical factor in sustaining cultural diversity but the manner of multifaceted and multidimensional institutional sharing between cultures. Berry (1986) claimed that a multicultural society encourages all groups to (a) maintain and develop their group identities, (b) develop other-group acceptance and tolerance, (c) engage in intergroup contact and sharing, and (d) learn each other’s language.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 401).
FUSHION: “The fusion model of second-culture acquisition represents the assumptions behind the melting pot theory. This model suggests that cultures sharing an economic, political, or geographic space will fuse together until they are indistinguishable to form a new culture. The respectful sharing of institutional structures will produce a new common culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 402).
So what’s the need for this list of terms? Why is it necessary?
I simply include it to indicate that the issues that can potentially arise for individuals living in a foreign country are to great to list. For that matter, there is a high degree of variability amongst immigrants who are trying to make a life in a new country. Factors such as socioeconomic status, education level, language familiarity, ethnic pride, and local race relations can all have a huge impact an individual’s experience.
My mother and her sister are an excellent example of this…
My mom is from the Philippines and is the youngest of two children. Her sister Rebecca is just 18 months older. Consequently they’ve always had a very competitive relationship. My mom is describes her older sister is much more popular and much more successful in school. She on the other hand had just a few friends and was very shy. To top this off she kind of had an inferiority complex next to her sister and was never really good in school and didn’t quite catch up to her until about seven to grade. This sense of insecurity and competition also spilled into the issue of appearance. My mother always described her sister as the prettier one. Her sister was always faired skinned and curvy and this made my mother jealous. My mother on the other hand past the paper bag test and your mother I was giving her a hard time about being skinny and was constantly instituting various plans to help her gain weight – all of which never worked. As a kid, I always found my mother’s insecurity strange, living in a “mostly-white” midwest town. All my classmates were obsessed with tanning in the summer and could never ever be thin enough. From this vantage point, it seemed strange to me that anybody would complain about being thin and tan…
However, I’m most struck by how my mother & her sister went about building lives in a new country.
My mother was always the “good girl” and very “values oriented” and in this respect, quiet a bit like her mother. On the other hand, her sister was a bit rebellious and more socially adept. She was always popular and much more knowledgeable socially. Its interesting to now my mothers traditionalism played out in her life and how my aunts rebelliousness played in her own. These two divergent characteristics affected their experiences as immigrants living in a new country. My mother was alone in the midwest. There were only a handful of non-whites so I was never exposed to Filipino culture. In contrast, her sister lived in Texas and employed several Filipino women. So my cousin was exposed to her mother’s culture, visited the Philippines several times, and speaks Tagalog. However my mother’s traditionalism caused her to remain reluctant to understanding what it is like to be an an American Teenager. This meant that I was not allowed to wear makeup, shave my legs, or wear bikini-style underwear, much less date. When you consider the fact that I already had few friends and was bullied constantly, this made things very difficult. I had no social guidance whatsoever. I was the oldest firstborn of all the cousins and as a result I was kind a like the guinea pig. My mother decided to raise me according to her own values that she knew and made them a priority. It probably wasn’t until my sister came around that she some understanding of what was needed to help the child survive socially school. So, I was isolated, overprotected and held to social standards that made fitting in difficult. My sister was given opportunities to experience things that I didn’t at her age. While five years younger, she was able to date first, given spending money first, and allowed to be out with friends late – all before me. Oftentimes, what would happen is they bought her a car and then would think, oh we never got one for Kathleen, lets do that….
So what point am I trying to make here???
I am frustrated with the lack of understanding in my family. I talk to my mother, and she talks about how I know nothing about her culture and am basically American. While this may be true in many respects, I blame this fact on my mother who has refused to speak Tagalog in front of me. It is, however, the case that she held me to standards that were her cultures and not my own. As somebody who was already bullied and ostracized quiet a bit, I needed guidance. Yet I got nothing. I sometimes I sacrificed my childhood and years of social development, so my mother could have her “peace of mind”. I will never forget when I told my sister about how I had to wear granny panties to P.E. She laughed and said, “OMG! There’s no way I would allow that to happen!!!” And in that comment is the problem. She didn’t have any idea how different they were with her and how she had chances for normalcy I never did. You see, the problem is the experiences that come together to influence a biracial’s experiences can vary greatly from person to person.
“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit. My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.
My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.
I was cloistered way like a nun. I had no friends & was ostracized. My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.
The final thought I’d like to make comes from a few articles by Maria Root, who describes racial identity development for individuals of mixed race. There are a few points she makes about racial identity development amongst biracial siblings that are worth noting:
“Siblings of racially mixed heritage…often identify themselves differently from one another” (Root, 1998, p. 237).
“Phenotype does not determine how people identify themselves” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“Identity can change over the lifetime” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“A monoracial framework is usually the guide for interpretation of behavior.” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
An Ecological Model of Identity
“The identity [options} are (a) accept the monoracial identity society assigns, (2) actively choose a monoracial identity (congruent with the identity society would assign), (3) define self as biracial or multiracial, (4) develop a “new race” identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Ecological Models of identity focus on the social and individual factors that influence Identity development. “This model of identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed heritage may identify themselves.” (Root, 1993, p. 240). Mixed race individuals frequently see themselves in a way that diverges significantly from how others tend to. Root, (2003 & 1998), discusses the following concepts in her ecological model of racial identity:
MACRO LENS: Gender; Social Class; Race Relations; Sexual Orientation.
MIDDLE LENS: Family Socialization Influences; Temperament; Community Relationships.
PHENOTYPE: Is a factor that influences many of the factors in the middle lens significantly
A Stage Model of Identity
“Typical behaviors of person’s of mixed heritage are…interpreted as signs of poor adjustment. Some of these behaviors stem from ways of sorting out the meaning of race…from a mixed perspective….negative adjustment is not [related to] being mixed…but rather conflict rising in the family and environment and the lack of guidance in resolving developmental crises…” (Root, 2003, p. 113).
Root begins discussing early stage models of racial identity development by reviewing the two primary stages which seem to encompass (1) a desire to adapt to a new culture, (2) response to inherent inequity and racism in American culture.
INITIAL STAGE: “internalization of white reference group that necessarily is accompanied by devalued messages of [minority group] values and culture.” (Root, 2003 p. 114).
TRAUMATIC EVENT: “Awakens the individual to the lack of equity and fairness…There is a retreat and immersion into the racial group of origin to gain support and…as part of the process of undoing the harm of internalized racism.” (Root, 2003, p. 114).
Next, Root provides the following summary of stages that biracial children progress through as they address the idea of “what they are”
“In the first stage, the awareness of race and ethnicity was not necessarily attached to ethnic background….In [the] second stage, people choose a racial identity; their cognitive capacity [in childhood] usually allows a single identtity. The third stage is driven by dissonance between the chosen identity and the incomplete mismatch with ethnic and racial identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Finally, common questions that arise
“Who am I?” (Idenitity)
Where do I fit in?” (Is there a place in the world I fit with?
Where is my social role?” (“What cultural standard?)
Who is in charge of my life?” (Who tells me what I am?)
“Where am I going?” (what goals?)
<h5><span style=”font-size: 45pt;”>Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”</h5></span>
Benet‐Martínez, V., & Haritatos, J. (2005). Bicultural identity integration (BII): Components and psychosocial antecedents. Journal of personality, 73(4), 1015-1050.
LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H. L., & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: evidence and theory. Psychological bulletin, 114(3), 395-412.
Root, M. P. (1998). Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the Biracial Sibling Project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 237-247.
Part Two: Exploratory Paper from MCC 638 “Social & Cultural Issues”
The purpose of this paper is to closely examine my personal worldview and sociocultural background. In doing so, the goal will be to understand how this influences my future clinical judgment and client interactions. I will begin by utilizing the Addressing Model, (Hays, 2008), to provide a biographical overview of my sociocultural history. The paper will then conclude with a series of interview-style questions, to help reflect and explore my life history in detail. Any personal understanding of my values, cultural identities, and areas of privilege that come from this activity will be used to direct future growth throughout this program.
According to our textbook, a bias is simply a “tendency to think, act, or feel in a particular way.” (Hays, 2008, p24). Personal biases emerge as a result of our upbringing and sociocultural background, (Hays, 2008). Our life history provides us a worldview, value system, identity and cultural background that produce the very biases we carry into therapeutic relationships, (Hays, 2008). In light of this fact, a cultural self-assessment is the first step toward developing greater multicultural competency as a counselor. I start this self-assessment by utilizing the Addressing Model to provide a rough overview of my sociocultural history. I then move on to a series of interview questions, which can help to shed light on areas of privilege, as well as value systems, and identities.
Utilizing the Addressing Model
Age and Generational Influences
My Parent’s Generation. My mother was born in 1938 and my father was born in 1941. They are members of the “silent generation”, born just prior to the baby boom (Martin, 2004). Their earliest years of life occurred while the world was at war. My mother, from the Philippines, grew up in the middle of war. My dad, an American, was ignorant of war altogether. They were both raised to work hard, get an education, and pursue the American Dream. For my mother’s family this meant gathering resources to put both of their two daughters through medical school and then help them to emigrate to the states. For my father’s family, this meant raising their sons in a strict household, expecting them to work hard, and then put themselves to school. In the end, they all did so, earning advanced degrees.
My Generation. I was born in 1969, and grew up in a small college town in South Dakota. Unlike many of my generation, I was spared from having to experience divorce first-hand. With divorce rates, at the time, soaring to 50% in my childhood (Amato & Cheadle, 2005), I was fortunate to have such a realistically positive view of marriage. The experience of witnessing everyone in my extended family enjoying long and happy marriages, has caused me to place a high value in the commitment of marriage and family.
Nonetheless, I am typical of many women in generation in being skeptical of the idea of “having it all”; a popular notion existing in westernized cultures in the aftermath feminist movement (Genz, 2010). While very appreciative of the strides made, I’ve witnessed many women struggle to keep up with home and work life in frustration. Many women in my generation have chosen to put off family, or opt out all together, (Genz, 2010). Still others, such as myself, have chosen to put off career pursuits in favor of focusing on my family life, (Genz, 2010).
Fortunately, I have no physical disabilities or health issues whatsoever. I’ve had the privilege of ignorance that comes with living in a healthy body, and never having to think about living with disability. (Hays, 2008). Nonetheless, I’ve found plenty of opportunity in my life to learn about living with disability. As a hospital tech I have had a great deal of opportunity to work with disabled individuals. As the mother to a son with a congenital defect, I’ve gained insight into experience of raising a child with special needs. I’ve developed an awareness of what it is to deal with physical disability on a daily basis. In fact, I’ve felt a great deal of satisfaction from these experiences, and wish to explore this area as a potential career path.
Religion and Spiritual Orientation
My religious background is complicated, by the fact that my family isn’t unified in its religious beliefs. My father is an atheist, my mother is devoutly catholic, and my sister considers herself a “born-again” evangelical Christian. As an agnostic, I can see everyone’s point of view and respect each one, as right for that person. I don’t feel it is right for anyone to impose my religious beliefs on others. Nonetheless, I do find the other members of my family disagreeing on matters quite often. My sister and mother disagree with the others beliefs on the grounds that it goes against their own. My father refuses to talk about it altogether and this annoys my mother and sister.
Ethnic & Racial Identity
“The ecological model of racial identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed racial heritage may identify themselves….These identities do not necessarily coincide with how other persons identify them. Thus the private identity may be different from the public identity assumed or validated by others.” (Root, 1998, p240).
I am a biracial individual, born to a Filipino mother and White father. A book written about my hometown, by author May-Lee Chai, titled “Hapa Girl” (2007), provides a good depiction of my childhood environment overall. Also biracial, she was a senior in high school when I was a freshman and endured much of what I did growing up.
My racial identity can be best described as a personal knowledge I hold within. It isn’t reflected in my phenotypic appearance and consequently is rarely acknowledged in my interaction with others. (Root, 1998). As a result, my identity as biracial is held with pride despite often being refuted and criticized by others. Additionally, because I’ve never been to the Philippines, it isn’t based on any cultural heritage. (Root, 1998) While purely American, from a cultural perspective, I claim both my Asian and American heritage from an identity viewpoint.
The socioeconomic status of my family of origin is solidly upper middle class. In contrast, my family of procreation would most likely be somewhere in the lower middle class. My husband comes a working class background, and had a rough home life. Adding to this, until recently, I’ve put off career pursuits in favor of family. As a result, I have experienced some downward mobility, in a matter of speaking. By marrying someone of a different socioeconomic class, I’m aware of the huge cultural divide between my husband’s family and my own. I feel comfortable in both worlds, yet my husband doesn’t enjoy being around my extended family, (despite getting along with my parents). A quote from a book titled “Reading Classes” by Barbara Jensen (2012) sums up my husband’s experiences well:
“I knew I wasn’t middle class like some others in the movement, and I believed I wasn’t as smart as they were. I knew my brain worked okay, but they knew more, lots more, and I wanted what they had. They often referred to authors I had never read or even heard of. They used words I didn’t understand, and they often talked about their college experiences, worldly travel, orchestral music, and other things with which I had little opportunity and experience. They appeared to all understand one another, but sometimes I just pretended I understood, and then I felt ashamed of both not knowing and pretending.” (Jensen, 2012, p18)
Sexual Orientation & Gender
Sexual Orientation & Cisgender Status. Regarding the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, I happen to be a cisgendered heterosexual. Being cisgender, I have moved through life with a body that matches my gender of identification, (Levy, 2013). Being a heterosexual, I have a sexual preference that is deemed acceptable by all facets of our society (Levy, 2013). I have never felt the need to think about my sexual orientation or gender identity to the extent I have my racial identity. Any thought I do give to such matters has been purely political in nature, since I’ve always been very supportive of LGBT rights. Having said this, I do feel simply believing in equal rights isn’t enough With ignorance, can come a lack of awareness of things such as subtleties of interaction and the imposition of our biases that can indeed be felt as discriminatory, regardless of their intention, (Hays, 2008)
Being Female. While being a female certainly implies a second-class status, it must be noted that the degree to which this is experience varies by culture. Fortunately, my sociocultural background has been one which values and empowers women. Having said this, it would be fruitful to learn about the implications of being female in cultures other than my own, as a matter of perspective.
Indigenous Heritage & National Origin.
On the one hand, I’m an American living in the United States and have no experience living in another country. I am neither an immigrant nor of indigenous heritage. On the other hand, with a mother who emigrated from the Philippines, I’ve witnessed a bit of what it is like to balance the influences of two competing cultures. Described best as a biculturalism, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993), raising a family in a foreign culture was certainly problematic for my mom. From my perspective, the cultural gap that resulted did require time to work through. Having not occurred until well into my own adulthood, I have a relationship with my mother today, which is very different from that of my childhood.
Cultural Self-Assessment Interview
In this portion of the paper, I move on to a series of self-assessment interview questions. It is my intention to answer each within the Addressing Model framework. I will consider how each question applies to my sociocultural history as described within this model.
Social Expectation & Identity.
“When I was born what were the social expectations for a person of my identity?” (Ajuoga, 2014). My biggest struggles with social expectations associated with identity, are in the areas of: (1) gender roles, (2) race identity, (3) socioeconomic class, and (4) religious affiliation. Other addressing components such as disability, sexual orientation, and indigenous heritage, have been of little concern. I will address these areas of struggle in turn, leaving female gender roles issues, for later.
Racial & Ethnic Identity. As mentioned already, I have experienced a great deal of confusion regarding my ethnic identity. My own biracial identity has been largely met with messages of disapproval, with others needing to inform me what they believe is the correct one (Root, 1998). It has taken some time, to sort through this issue as I’ve learned to let go of the idea that validation from others is ever a realistic expectation, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993).
Religious Identity. While my mother’s family is devoutly catholic, my father’s family is predominantly agnostic and atheistic. The competing perspectives from this interfaith family background yielded an array of contradictory expectations (McCarthy, 2007). As my sister and I matured, our chosen routes diverged greatly. I came to identify myself as agnostic, while my sister has joined an evangelical church and embraced those ideals. The biggest issues in our family have come as we’ve tried to maintain a sense of integrity while also respecting others’ beliefs (McCarthy, 2007).
Socioeconomic Identity. Maria Root discusses, in her work on mixed race identity, that individuals from such backgrounds can often develop negative biases against one side of their family as result of negative treatment, (Root, 1998). Within my father’s extended family I have experienced just this growing up. The ignorance and ethnocentrism they display, alongside the pride, and unwillingness to see any other perspective has been the source of much pain. As a byproduct of this experience, I’ve developed a negative bias against their upper middle class socioeconomic ideals (Root, 1998). It’s only in my adulthood, that I’ve been aware of how much I rejected this component of my identity, while embracing husband’s working class background instead, (Root, 1998). Coming to terms with this will be essential in my growth as a counselor (Hays, 2008).
Norms, Values & Gender Roles.
“When I was a teenager, what were the norms, values, and gender roles supported within my family, by my peers, in my culture and in the dominant culture” (Ajouga, 2014)” Overall, a great deal of conflict exists with norms, values, and gender role expectations in my extended family. Additional conflicts were present between my familial and environmental norms and values growing up.
In an article an on biculturalism mentioned in our textbook, there is a discussion of the impact of living between cultures (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). This article mentions feelings of psychological discomfort as the initial result of a dual identity-based consciousness that can have potential benefits in the long run, (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). Having many conflicting identities, values and belief systems has resulted in much of this discomfort as well as many fruitful life lessons.
Gender roles. Within my family, gender roles brought about much confusion as a child. Conflicting messages existed as a result of complex familial generational and cultural gaps. My dad’s family came from a traditional background, with the belief that women were supposed to stay at home. In contrast, my mother’s family was very forward thinking. Since my maternal grandparents were both teachers, it was very important their daughters go to school. Having two daughters finish medical school was a source of great pride.
These competing perspectives left me with a conflicting and contradictory array of familial gender-based role expectations. Against this backdrop, was the generational influence of being born in the aftermath of the feminist movement, (Genz, 2010). Not feeling the need to having it all, I have instead discovered a path that has worked for me.
Norms and Values. While there were many conflicting norms and values within my extended family, this wasn’t really the biggest issue in the context of day-to-day life as a child. The greatest source of conflict existed between the values and norms my parents held me to in contrast to with what was expected in my hometown. Norms and values regarding: (1) relationships and dating, (2) parental roles, (3) rules of emotional expression, as well as (4) appearance and demeanor stand at the forefront as most problematic.
In keeping with her cultural background, my mother assumed the role of matriarch, and was largely responsible for setting parental limits. My dad, busy at work most of the time, didn’t want to interfere. As a result, my mothers cultural belief systems were the standard we complied with at home. Naturally unbeknownst to them, this key factor resulted in an array of problems throughout my childhood, when it came to fitting in (Chai, 2004; Fortune, 2012).
For example, regarding the issue of appearance, my mother didn’t allow me to shave my legs or wear makeup, and I was bullied endlessly for it. In the arena of dating, I was absolutely forbidden from even considering it until college, because that’s how it was for her growing up, (Fortune, 2012). Added difficulties resulted from differences in parenting role expectations between my mom’s culture and my hometown environment, (Root, 1998). Cultural differences such as these, caused many parents and teachers to misunderstand my mother. They often thought poorly of her parenting style, because it was so different from what they knew. This added to my difficulties in trying fitting in.
“How was my view of the world shaped by the social movements of my teen years?” (Ajouga, 2014) With a population that was mostly white, middle class, and well educated, my hometown had a very ethnocentric feel to it (Chai, 2004). At school, a large portion of my classmates came from families that called this town home for several generations (Chai, 2004).. This gave many of my classmates the benefit of a large social network, as well as consistent socialization, on how to follow the values and norms of the local culture (Chai, 2004). Without this knowledge base or support system, fitting in was difficult, and I was bullied throughout much of my childhood, (Chai, 2004). As per Brene Brown’s work on shame, my personal view of the world was based on an underlying identity of shame as she defines it:
“The definition of shame that emerged from the research is, an intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance, and belonging.” (Brown, 2006, p45)
“When I was a young adult, what educational opportunities were available to me? And now?” (Ajouga, 2014) While I did enter college with many opportunities for learning, my ability to make the most of them limited by my problematic childhood history. Nonetheless, having been born into an upper-middle class environment to two highly educated parents, provided me with many privileges I failed to appreciate at the time, (Hays, 2008). Today, after having come to terms with my past through counseling, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make the most of these privileges and pursue this degree.
“What generational roles make up my core identity (eg., auntie, father, adult child, grandparent)?” (Ajouga, 2014). Key generational roles which are strongly associated with my identity, include my roles as a daughter and mother. In fact, I hold my role as parent before any others in my life. Having nearly lost my oldest after several open heart surgeries and then suffering a miscarriage before giving birth to my youngest, I value my time with my kids greatly. It’s been my goal in life to learn the lessons from my parents, and be there in ways they were not able to. Making sacrifices for my kids, showering them with affection and cherishing our time together are key priorities in my daily life.
Regarding my role as daughter, while I’m not as close to them as I’d wish, I do strongly identify with my duties to them. As the oldest child with a background in health care, its expected that I be there to care for them when they age. I plan on trying my best to live up to this expectation as a show if respect and love, knowing action and not words work best a communicating such things with them.
In completing this assignment, I’m actually surprised at how much I learned about myself. Rereading my personal history has been quite enlightening, as a much-needed perspective within to contextualize the outcome of my life. It’s cleared while my complex sociocultural history yielded much stress as a child, its also provided me with wonderful opportunities for personal growth. Inspired by this fact, I am committed to a lifelong process of learning as a counselor and plan to use these insights as I worked completing my degree.
Ajouga, P. (2014). Re: MCC 638 Week Two Overview. Retrieved from
Genz, S., (2010). Singled Out: Postfeminism’s “New Woman” and the Dilemma of Having It All. The Journal of Popular Culture, (43)1, 97-119.
Hays, P. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice. (2nd Ed.) Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Jensen, B. (2012). Reading Classes : On Culture and Classism in America. Ithaca: ILR Press.
LaFromboise, Coleman, H.L.K. & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: Evidence and theory. Psychological Bulletin. 114(3) 395-412.
Levy, Denise L. “On the outside looking in? The experience of being a straight, cisgender qualitative researcher.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 25.2 (2013): 197-209.
Martin, C.A. (2004) “Bridging the generation gap (s).” Nursing2013. 34(12)62-63.
McCarthy, K. (2007). “Pluralist Family Values: Domestic Strategies for Living with Religious Difference” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 612(1) 187-208.
Root, M.P.P. (1998) Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the biracial sibling project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health. 4(3) 237-247.
Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”
It is September 21st, 2017, my birthday, and I’m officially 48-years-old: an old fart…
Its 11:25 in the morning and I just had an appointment with my psychiatrist and took time to review where I’m at now. Honestly, I’ve been too busy. While I’m grateful to be on track, everything is happening at fast pace and at the rate I’m on going I won’t get a day off until I can move to a different schedule for my weekend job. I’m trying my best to carve out time out for myself whenever I have a spare minute. However, I realize this schedule can continue for very long.
I’m in the car right now trying to make the most of this drive time, and I’m dictating this post on a handy-dandy app I downloaded onto my phone….
I have this theory that life comes with its bitter pill we must swallow. I know this sounds a bit “Debbie Downer” of me, but bear with me. As I see it, this bitter pill represents an undeniable yet ugly truth of our lives. If we face it directly it causes us more pain then we’re prepared or willing to feel. So what we do is we engage in a willful denial of facts and create a reality that deletes these ugly truth out of the equation. The problem with this, is we end up perpetuating what we deny
We seek answers in the wrong places and end up chasing our tails like a hamster on a wheel. As a reformed-fuck-up, I’ve come to understand that the only way out is through. The truth will set you free.
(I realize I’ve said this elsewhere on this blog before. However, it bears repeating here.)
I feel like that kid in the emperor has no clothes fable who points out that the king is naked and gets in trouble for simply stating facts.
It’s truly a crazy making experience to be told that I’m supposed to treat truth as bullshit and bullshit is truth. Its as if those in my past expected me to help them deny what they hated to see. I was expected to collude with others in the maintenance of the pretty, self-deceptive realities we shared. Unseen facts were my crosses to bear and theirs to benefit from since I was too young to know better.
If you’re a first-time visitor I’m sure this makes absolutely no sense. In this case, I suggest you read through my blog. I’m frankly not in the mood now to provide a detailed accounting of this experience.
My point is, I have this life to look back upon that is very lonely in the truest sense of the word. This loneliness – (in part at least) – meant my daily life was lacking in meaningful companionship, interaction, and belonging. I’m at a point in my life now where I am not willing to pay a price for the ignorance of others – even if this does mean I must watch them hurting. I must speak my truth and can’t afford to save others at my expense. I do not expect others to change or if knowledge my truth.
In this blog post I want to tell my side of the story: (or at least the Cliff Notes version of it)
As I write these words my mind is filled with memories of a childhood where I felt like a defendant in the court of public opinion. I was deemed guilty before I had a chance to speak on my behalf. Nobody took time to understand what I was going through. It’s not that they didn’t give a fuck or pretending not to notice….
…they just had more “pressing matters” to deal with and I wasn’t exactly high on their list of priorities.
Today when I speak with people who knew me as a kid – (whether family, friends or acquaintances) – it’s like a bad acid trip. Through the eyes of all those who know me, I am able to see a version of myself that is always distorted and never flattering. Instead, it is stereotypical and glossed over. When viewing these preconceived versions of me side-by-side, I feel I’m walking through a hall of mirrors
No one took time to understand where I was coming from, when they drew their conclusions. Instead they acted as judge and jury. I was screwed from the outset. You see, acknowledging me has meant facing ugly truths previously swept under the rug. My only regret is I did not stand up for myself sooner in life.
As that man in a monkey suit, I struggle to break free, but the zipper is stuck. I ask someone to help me but they don’t notice my inner struggle. You see I’m just a stupid monkey. I urge them from within to look inside but they can’t see behind this frickin mask. All I say and do is contextualized within this preconceived notion. These preconceptions render the truth of who I am essentially invisible to all – including myself. All that can be seen is this thick layer of bullshit ideas thrown my way.
There’s a standard and legal profession that I’m sure you’ve heard before: beyond a reasonable doubt. So they’ll does this mean?
So in my defense, what facts can be brought forth the produce doubts about the conclusions mad about me in the court of public opinion? What follows is listing of unacknowledged facts – in no particular order that provide a solid argument against these judgments rendered upon me in the court of public opinion:
To continue click the links below
one day after the usual taunting and ridicule, we went to the locker room to shower and change. For the most part, the girls in my class ignore me, which was preferable to the verbal ridicule the boys always dished out
Around me several other girls started undressing talking about normal high school stuff like this party on this weekend or so and do’s boyfriend. I remained quiet and simply went about my business thinking to myself, “they have no idea how lucky they are getting to be normal”. However, at some point, I start noticing everybody giving me these funny looks. Perturbed by the stares I gave the girl next to me the “evil eye” as she asks: “who bought you that underwear and why don’t you shave your legs?” I looked down at my underwear, having not given it a single thought until that moment. It was the underwear that my mother bought for me. It had pretty little pink flowers on it and was the modest granny style that my mother approved of. They of course have this fancy underwear that you get from the Victoria’ s Secret. The kind my mother would always comment that only “slutty girls” wear. Then, as I began examining my hairy legs I thought to myself in frustration at my mothers steadfast ignorance.
Point #1: “In my own defense”, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules of law regarding fitting in. Doing so was legitimately complicated due to the isolation (both at home & school)…
He gazed upon me with that evil Cheshire Cat grin knowing full well all eyes are on us as he said, ”What the fuck is wrong with you moron, I’m talking to you!?!?”
I tried my best to ignore him and looked straight ahead. My face was burning hot and at this point very red as I realized everyone in the classroom stopped what they were doing to watch our exchange. I honestly can’t remember at this point what our group project was that day, but our geography teacher had divided us up into groups. I had the misfortune of being paired with three “gems”.
Point #2: “In my own defense”, I was truly alone & the chips were stacked against me. School was a terrifying place. My only defense was to retreat “within myself”. By High School I was really known as “the girl who refused to talk”.
“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit. My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.
My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.
I was cloistered way like a nun. I had no friends & was ostracized. My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.
Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”
“emotional parentification requires the child to fulfill specific emotional and/or psychological needs of a parent and is more often destructive for child development than instrumental parentification (Hooper, 2007a)”…”Scapegoat theory refers to the tendency to blame someone else for one’s own problems, a process that often results in feelings of prejudice toward the person or group that one is blaming. Scapegoating serves as an opportunity to explain failure or misdeeds, while maintaining one’s positive self-image” (Scapegoat Theory Definition, n.d.)
Point #4: “I had to provide support at the expense of my own well-being. To this day, my father has received the fruit of my own emotional parentification by believing honestly that “I had a happy childhood”. My mother has received the fruit of my role as the scapegoat by saying “my conscience has been resolved”
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been an optimal target for bullies. In fact, as the “girl with the cooties”, bullying has always been a constant issue: from kindergarten at St. Agnes up through high school graduation.
Admittedly, the bullies changed from year to year, but they all saw me the same way. I was the perfect target: I am highly sensitive and don’t fight back….For those who have never been bullied, you’d be surprised to learn that the actual bullying isn’t the worst of it. The collateral damage it sustains upon your social life is devastating. You see, when you get picked on often enough at school people start to notice and a reputation develops. Now a “loser”, you’re essentially walking around with a scarlet letter tattooed to your forehead. Hapless bystanders, silently observe the altercations but do nothing. Instead they pretend not to notice. Fearing for their own well-being and hoping to retain their status within the social hierarchy, you’re now a social leper. A “dork-by-association” rule starts to govern all social interactions with you. Should someone dare say “hi” or strike up a conversation, they’ll hear about it later: “what the hell are you doing hanging out with that wierdo?!?!”
Point #5: “In my own defense”, I was really a deer in headlights.
A consistent diet of ostracism & bullying left me with a skewed perception of myself. I left home with this emotional hot potato…
I suspect you have no idea how much I have been hurt by your treatment of me. My differentness truly offended you and made you ashamed. It left me feeling like a scarlet letter was tattooed indelibly in my forehead 24:7. Thank’s so much for that.
I was a means to an end & nothing more. Your actions were driven by purely narcissistic motives. I was your ego boost you were my band-aid. It was all part of your grand plan to break me down & build me up to your own specifications. Your abusive behavior left its mark on me.
Since graduating & starting a new career, I’m entering a new phase in life…
As a full-time working mother & graduate student, I had many things on my plate. I had to par down my life & focus only on the most critical elements. Self-care came first. At the time, this meant getting enough sleep & learning to manage my stress. Family time, came a close second on my list of priorities. As a mother of two boys (11 & 17), I am aware that in just about 7 years time, I’m looking at being an “empty-nester” (and honestly this scares me more than just a little bit).
Then to top it off, with a weekend night-shift job in healthcare, I’ve felt perpetually fatigued. I struggled to complete my homework and internship hours.
Then graduation came & I suddenly found myself with some extra time on my hands….
…And now its about 1.5 months since graduation & I’m finally ready to start my new career. The hard work was worth it, & I look forward to a new chapter. Many of those life-goals on the back burner can now receive the focus of my full attention. In addition to losing weight & cultivating a stronger spiritual fondation, I am wanting to indulge in my creative energies, by doing some fun things with this blog….
But here’s my problem. I am conflicted with two seemingly contradictory concerns that leave me unsure of how to proceed….
On the one hand, I hope to live my life from a place of authenticity rather than shame.
As a bullied and ostracized child, I responded to the daily peer abuse by becoming very reclusive and introverted. I would go days without saying more than a few words from people. At school this might be an “excuse me”. At home it might be a “pass the salt”. Nobody knew I was in pain since I held it in. Nobody had concern for me because I did as I was told and never got in trouble. As life moved forward, this relational pattern has remained with me. I have difficulty opening up to others and have few if any friends.
“A competent practitioner working online will always adhere to at least the following minimum standards and practices in order to be considered to be working in an ethical manner….Practitioners have a sufficient understanding of their Ethics Codes and Social Media and can integrate how they relate to professional conduct online. Practitioners are mindful that Social Media activity can blur the boundaries between personal and professional lives, and they take great care to consider the potential impact of these activities on their professional relationships” (Onlinetherapyinstitute. n.d.).
I struggled in futility to make sense of my surroundings but without my glasses there was no point. Lying on that hospital gurney, all I could see were the bright hot examination lights. As the fear and confusion grew, an animal instinct in my foggy brain was urging me to resist. However, all efforts proved fruitless. As the sedative effects of the sleeping pills took hold, I struggled in futility to regain control of any motor function. All I could manage in that moment was nonsensical slurred speech while flailing about the bed like a crazy homeless drunk. When I tried sitting up, hospital staff surrounded me while tying hands and feet to the bed. The last thing I recall was the big plastic tube they shoved down my throat.
I opened my eyes several hours later to mental clarity and events of the previous evening began flooding back.
I recall waking up to a knock on my door late Sunday night. Laying on the sofa, I was prepared for an eternal slumber. As the door opened, I became enraged with myself for forgetting to lock the dang door. A crew of emergency responders walked in, including my old college roommate (a cop) & a former high school classmate (an EMT).
At the lowest point of my life, there were 2 people from my past who existed as reminders of traumas I was struggling to forget. The idea of this made me so angry my hands began to shake uncontrollably. They now had a ring-side seat to the assorted details of my fucked up life.
Wanting nothing more than to run away in shame, I stumbled into the bedroom but didn’t get far before my old roommate grabbed me by the arm. As she sat beside me on my bed, I was hit immediately by barrage of questions:
“A friend of yours was concerned about you and told us to check up on you. Did you take this bottle of pills”
“Can you tell me why you decided to do this?”
“I can appreciate that you don’t want to talk about it but I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on?”
As she informed me of her plans to take me to the hospital, a blind panic took over. “I can’t let him see me like this!!!”
A blind panic overcame as I remembered the old high school classmate, waiting in the next room. I felt like that awkward bullied kid again terrified to show my face. The idea that he might spread details of this evening throughout town, pained me. My mind flooded with painful memories of my childhood. He was your adverqfe kid just trying to survive. He always avoided me and pretended to not notice the bullying I suffered – an implicit acknowledgement of the fact that I was the social leper. As a silent bystander he was “the enemy” in my mind. All I wanted to do is hide out in the bedroom. In my mind. I was that scared kid who hid in the girls locker room to avoid the daily lunchroom torture – all over again. It wasn’t until he left that I was willing to leave my bedroom and be escorted to the hospital…
After surviving this nightmare, I was simply grateful the sedative-induced fog had lifted & my mind was finally clear.
I reoriented myself to the surroundings. The ER room was large and expansive with long curtains separating a row of hospital beds. I wondered in horror, how many people were able to witness the “humbling events” that unfolded just hours ago. As a nurse approached my bedside, I asked for politely my glasses. She ignored me as if I wasn’t there and sat down to scribble some notes in my chart.
I laid there in silence, and wondered what I had done to make her angry. Still tied to the bed, unable to move, there was really nothing I could do but wait. I began to recall the conversation hospital staff had while hovering around me just hours ago. They were talking about me as if I wasn’t there, unaware that I was still conscious. A male nurse, at one point, called me a pathetic loser, since “only losers kill themselves”. The ER doctor got mad at him for saying this and ordered him to help someone else.
Sitting by me at eye level, I could tell by his kind eyes and sincere voice that he genuinely cared. He told me it would be okay and he would make certain the nurses took good care of me…
I squinted my eyes and searched for a figure in a white lab coat. However, the ER was quiet, and the nice doctor was no where to be found. The nurse remaining by my bedside, was stoic and cold. Without a hint of acknowledgement she approached my bed and forcibly sat me up & turned around to search for my clothes. I sat there stunned and dizzy, as the my fuzzy surroundings began spinning about. I struggled to grab hold of something, however my arms were still tied firmly to the bed and my hands felt numb. As my untied hospital gown started gradually falling down my shoulders, my breasts were exposed. With no curtains drawn to ensure privacy, I became fearful that some random person might walk by and see me sitting here. I asked her to pull up my gown up or close the curtain. However, She ignored my requests. Frustrated and ashamed, I noticed a phlebotomist milling around, ogling at me with an evil grin on his face. I bowed my head down towards my feet in a futile attempt to use my hair as a privacy shield. After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse finally turned around and pulled the curtain shut, so I could finally be spared another second of feeling like a side-show oddity.
She was 16 years old and brought in by an ambulance to the ER. Her parents called 911 after finding her in the bathroom with her wrists slashed.
She arrived covered in blood and could have passed for an extra for a slasher flick. Her arms were wrapped in towels as they wheeled her in. I was instructed to clean her up so the doctor could do the stitches. Her mother stood by, crying uncontrollably as I wheeled her into a room and pulled the curtains for privacy. After getting her into a hospital gown, I laid her down on the gurney, unwrapped her wrists and began scrubbing the dirt and dried blood away from her arms. After a period of silence I asked her what happened. Her affect remained flat as she shrugged shoulders and contemplated my question for a minute. Looking away, she replied: “I’ve had a rough time at school and my parents are getting divorced.”
I continued cleaning her up and recall saying that I was sorry I was to her about the hard time she’s going through. I attempted to reassure here I was there to help and available in this capacity should she need anything. Beyond the polite smile and thank you, I could see she was in a world of pain. I recalled my own suicide many years ago. I shuddered at the possibility that the care she was being provided might make her to feel like I had several decades ago.
As I continued to scrub away the blood and grime, the details of my life quickly fell into the background. Before me, was a human being who is just hurting. She simply wanted the pain to stop. I wished in futility for a way to make it better and continued cleaning her silently and meticulously. Sounds of ER chaos unfolded just beyond the drawn curtain. The air was ripe with a cold and emotional neutrality that reflected a jaded “I’ve-seen-it-all” mentality. I could recognize the “survival mode” mindset in the staff working that evening. They were overworked, stressed, and entire hospital was short-handed. Everybody was focused simply on the tasks at hand with cold and steely determination. A sadness grew within me as I began to witness this clashing of perspectives. I was vividly aware of the client’s needs and the hurt overwhelming her. However, as a healthcare worker, I also understood how difficult the job an be at times.
In that moment, it was clear to me that the client’s need for compassion, and understanding, would be met with a clinical focus on the overarching goal of simply ensuring patient safety. She could expect to receive repeated punitive reminders that what she did a very bad thing…
Finally, some parting words as “food or thought”:
“Perhaps nowhere is the ability to empathize with another person more important than when one is interacting with a person who is on the brink of suicide. This is true whether one views one’s task as helping the individual choose continued living over suicide or, more rarely, as helping the individual make a wise chose between suicide and continued life. The ability to hold a person within life, when that is needed, and to allow a person who has chosen suicide to die, when that is needed, depend on an experiential appreciation of the other’s world view. Finding hidden or obscure ways out as well as seeing that there is no way out require both the ability and the willingness to fully enter the experience of the individual ready to suicide and, at the same time, not become that experience…” (Linehan, 1997, p. 353).
Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and Psychotherapy. In A. Bohard & L. Greenber (Eds.) Empathy Reconsidered: New Directions in Psychothrerapy. Washington DC: AC 352-392.
In this post, I’m reviewing literature that discusses the stages of change as it applies to providing care to victims of intimate partner violence. As an intern working at a homeless shelter for women, I find the work highly relevant to what I see from day to day. This post includes segments of old assignments…
“Why does’t she just leave him?!?!?!?”
“Queries like, “Why does she put up with that?” and “Why does she stay?” continue to haunt battered women…The implication is that the battered women’s behavior is problematic…This ego-deflating and incriminating element can serve to keep a woman trapped in a situation she may view as incapable of ending herself” (Burman, 2003, p. 83).
During my internship class last quarter, a fellow classmate began discussing a client she was seeing who was just left an abusive relationship. At one point my professor made an interesting statement that made me stop and think:
“The key is to understand the unresolved issues they have yet to work through”
This statement made me stop and think a bit about my own history, and the “it years”. Mind you, the abusive behavior was psychological and emotional. However, there is certainly a parallel. Throughout the relationship, I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say: “Why don’t you just leave him?” I recall thinking silently, “it’s just so complicated, you don’t understand.” My response was, often to remain silent, and simply ignore the question. There was no point in explaining to those who ask, what they are blind to and unable to conceive…
It is for this reason, that my professor’s comments really struck me. In response to questions such as these I might say iterate what my own professor said, “what unresolved issues lay in their life history that I hadn’t worked out yet as an explanation for why they would be in a relationship like this?”
To put it another way, let’s look at this issue from a behavioral perspective. Mind you, this theory isn’t necessarily my favorite since I feel we are much more than pavlovian dogs. However, what’s clear about human behavior is that we do what works. Even, if at first, behaviors appear self-destructive, we must ask ourselves what they “payoff” is. In my own case, there was an emotional “hot potato” was the unresolved trauma of bullying and ostracism in my childhood. I was so incredibly desperate to avoid the rejection and loneliness of my childhood, this relationship was the “lesser of two evils” as an alternative to re-experiencing the traumas of my childhood.
Admittedly, this personal perspective in my own life history, might not apply to many other cases of domestic violence. However, the point is, rather than asking “why don’t they leave?” We must ask ourselves, how this relationship reflects the the summative emotional impact of life experiences? I love John Malkovich’s assertion that to a create character successfully we must see them without judgment. Maybe this is also true with clients: to see their life experiences without judgment.
“Attempting to understand the nature of the battering and how women cope, we can glean some insights into…the strengths that are utilized to make the decision to leave, act upon and sustain this goal” (Burman, 2003, p. 84).
Two articles are useful in providing information in understanding a domestic violence situation as a guide throughout the counseling process. These articles describe a woman’s adaptations to spousal abuse in terms of the following stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination (Burman, 2003; Fraser, et al, 2001). According to this theory, change is not a singular event but a process that occurs in an observable sequence of stages. For example, during pre-contemplation, a woman tends to minimize and deny the issues and their consequences. Traumatic bonds are quite pronounced at this point and a sense of isolation and dependence grows along with a growing feeling of responsibility and self-blame (Burman, 2003, p85). The contemplation phase marks a period of ambivalence during which an increasing level of cognitive dissonance develops and a woman vacillates on whether to leave (Burman, 2003, p85). Determination and Action involve the process of preparing to leave and enacting one’s plan. Finally, brief descriptions are provided of the maintenance and termination stages. What follows is an overview of the stages of change as it applies to victims of intimate partner violence.
Overview of The Stages of Change
The pre-contemplation stage is characterized by either denial and minimization of the problem. For example, during this stage a client may resist any attempts to discuss and acknowledge that abuse is occurring. This might can present as a defensiveness towards anyone who suggests and/or suspects that there is a problem (Burman, 2003). Alternatively, the client might also present with a desire to accommodate “herself to the situation, constantly hoping that by pleasing her partner he will change his ways” (Burman, 2003, p. 84). Sometimes expressions of hopelessness regarding the possibility of change can also be seen (Frasier, et al, 2001). Alternatively, the client may describe the hopelessness of the situation while blaming herself and/or others:
“There is no need to talk about it; it won’t change a thing,”
“If the supper had been ready on time…”
“But, he is a good provider…”
“If the children weren’t so noisy…”
During this early stage, the traumatic bond begins to develop. I prefer to call it a “boot camp” period, where you’re slowly broken in like a pair of new boots. Momentary expressions of love and/or positive reinforcement are intermingled with various forms of abusive behavior. You’re slowly isolated from others and dependency upon your partner grows slowly over time. An extremely low self-esteem exists that one cannot see beyond, as an all-encompassing perspective of oneself. This is the hardest to explain, for those who don’t understand. However, I would simply like to note that people can’t see what they haven’t experienced, like explaining the color purple to a blind man.
This stage is characterized by feelings of ambivalence as the client vacillates between “concern and..unconcern, motivation to change and to continue unchanged” (Burman, 2003, p. 85). The therapist’s primary goal is to addrress feelings of ambivalence. As the situation continues in an unremitting manner, the client’s coping mechanisms wear down. Consequently, denial is no longer possible and they begin to recognize that a problem exists. The client struggles to make sense of their partner’s behavior and process their feelings of ambivalence by weighing various options as “what if’s”.
“I wish that I could figure out what to do differently so he won’t get so angry with me,.”
“What would happen if I did leave, can I ‘go it alone’?”
“Patients in this stage are consciously aware of their problems. They are `committed’ to taking action usually within the next month” (Frasier, et al, 2001, p. 214). During this stage the primary goal is to “determine the best course of action and prepare to carry it out” (Burman, 2003, p. 86). Planning is underway as the client seeks counseling, legal assistance, saving money, and a safe place to stay. Both resources for this post mention that change is sometimes a fluctuating process and clients can occasionally be seen moving back and forth between preparation and contemplation (Burman, 2003; Fraser, et al, 2001).
During this stage, the client begins putting her plans into action and makes efforts to change. “The prospect of leaving, is often dangerous and scary, provoking feelings of fear and anxiety (Burman, 20030. Therefore, great energy is now directed toward ensuring your personal safety and rebuilding your life. Victims of abuse may seek counseling, participate in a local support group for victims of domestic violence, and/or request that their partner seek treatment as part of a court-ordered protective or restraining order. Some victims may also train for or seek work outside the home in order to establish economic independence.” (Fraser, et al, 2001 p. 214).
During the maintenance stage, clients are struggling to avoid problematic behaviors. The goal during this stage is to prevent relapses into old destructive habits. Burman, (2003) states that 5-7 attempts are commonly made to leave an abusive relationship before success is achieved. “Various reasons have been given for this action, including ‘fear, continuing emotional involvement, desire to keep the family together, and lack of viable alternatives'” (Burman, 2003, p.86). “Maintenance depends not only on the thoroughness of the action plan but also on a continuing support system” (Fraser, 2001, p. 2014).
Assessment Client Needs
Nature of Abuse
It is also important to obtain more detail on the nature and severity of the past abuse history in order to begin working through the effects of these experiences (Burman, 2003). This should also entail an assessment for symptoms of PTSD and dissociation.
Self-Esteem & Coping Style
Issues for women recovering from a history of spousal abuse include a diminished self esteem, as well as dysfunctional cognitive and affective adaptations (Holiman & Schlilit, 1991). This diminished self-esteem can be thought of as a sense of powerlessness and low self-worth. It causes individual’s develop maladaptive belief systems about themselves in relation to others (Holiman & Schlilit, 1991). Emotionally, long-term spousal abuse also causes a paradoxical attachment, in which victims come to rely on a hope for something they never receive (Holiman & Schlilit, 1991).
Readiness for Change
Interventions should be geared towards a client’s level of readiness for change and aimed addressing resistance. For example, for women who have not yet left relationships, you would note they are either one of two things. They may be in the pre-contemplative change and unwilling to acknowledge the problem. Or they may be in the contemplative change and considering leaving, but unsure of how they may do so.
Depression & self-care (Kakurt, 2014)
Participants in this article described feeling depressive symptoms and difficulty engaging in adequate self-care (Karkurt, et al, 2014). Additionally they felt a mixture of emotions including being overwhelmed and stressed about the big life decision they just made. These overwhelmed feelings would arise when they began discussing the tasks before them as they attempted to rebuild their lives. Others were angry for themselves for not having left sooner.
Shame & Self-Blame (Karakurt, 2014)
A subgroup of participants in this research suffered with several more severe co-morbid diagnoses that required additional interventions. Issues common in this group include bipolar disorder, depression, suicide, dissociative PTSD, borderline personality disorder (Karakurt, et al, 2014). Finally, individuals who had suffered longer-term severe abuse, were most likely to deal with feelings of excessive guilt and self-blame (Karakurt, et al, 2014). These feelings of guilt and self-blame made their decision to leave particularly difficult to cope with. For example, this article describes one participant stating they felt they had betrayed the trust of their partner (Karakurt, et al, 2014). This insight points at the importance of understanding an abusive situation from the perspective of someone who has lived it. From an outsider’s point of view, these feelings make little sense. On the other hand, from the perspective of someone living the experience, the feelings are altogether different. It is our job to work at appreciating things in this vantage point, and helping from within this perspective.
Emotional Response to Violence
Holiman, (1991) “describes a paradox for women in violent situations: the woman is trapped because she feels even more afraid when she contemplates separation than when she imagines being intimate in a battering relationship…the fear of being without a partner was overriding, more important than whether or not the violence stopped” (p. 346).
When I read the above quote, I was again reminded of that relationship in college. I would like to reiterate it wasn’t physically violent, however emotionally, psychologically and sexually abusive. I can recall a similar feeling of fear upon separation. I recall breaking up with him during a family vacation to London. My mother had arranged it with his parents. He was going to visit them for a week, while I went to London. It was my first time away from him. I recall breaking up with him from this safe distance, and feeling a nagging fear & anxiety throughout the remainder of the trip. This paradoxical feeling is admittedly difficult to explain however quite overwhelming. Holiman (1991) suggests this is due to a process of traumatic bonding takes place between the woman and her partner, similar to the relationship between hostage and captor.” (p. 346).
“Effective Interventions Matched with Stages of Change” for victims of abuse. (Fraser, et al, 2001, p. 215).
“Roberts’ Seven-Stage Crisis Intervention Model & Battering Severity Continuum” (Holiman, 2003, p. 88).
Burman, (2003) includes a description of a Crisis Intervention Model based on research that focuses on domestic violence. This Crisis Intervention Model is based on the idea that abuse can be observed to occur along a continuum of severity. “Divided into seven stages, the model details hierarchical assessment and intervention activities that aim to subdue a crisis so that strength-oriented empowering cognitive, and independent function can be achieved” (Burman, 2003, p. 88).
“An acute disruption of psychological homeostasis in which one’s usual coping mechanisms fail and there exists evidence of distress and functional impairment. The subjective reaction to a stressful life experience that compromises the individual’s stability and ability to cope or function. The main cause of a crisis is an intensely stressful, traumatic, or hazardous event, but two other conditions are also necessary: (1) the individual’s perception of the event as the cause of considerable upset and/or disruption; and (2) the individual’s inability to resolve the disruption by previously used coping mechanisms. Crisis also refers to “an upset in the steady state.” It often has five components: a hazardous or traumatic event, a vulnerable or unbalanced state, a precipitating factor, an active crisis state based on the person’s perception, and the resolution of the crisis.” (Roberts, 2005, p. 778)
Seven Stages of Intervention (Roberts, 2005).
Continuum of Abuse (Burman, 2003).
A treatment plan
The following is a hypothetical treatment plan I created for my practicum course some time ago. I utilized the resources below to create it…
Burman, S. (2003). Battered women: Stages of change and other treatment models that instigate and sustain leaving. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 3(1), 83.
Fraser, P. Y., Slatt, L, Kowlowitz, V., & Glowa, P. T. (2001). Using the stages of change model to counsel victims of intimate partner violence. Patient Education and Counseling. 44, 211-217.
Holiman, M. & Schlilit R. (1991). Aftercare for battered women: How to encourage maintenance of change. Psychotherapy. 28(2), 345-353.
Karakurt, G., Smith, D., & Whiting, J. (2014). Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Mental Health. Journal of family violence, 29(7), 693-702.
Roberts, A. R., & Ottens, A. J. (2005). The seven-stage crisis intervention model: A road map to goal attainment, problem solving, and crisis resolution. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 5(4), 329-339
As time has progressed, I’ve adapted to the “learning as you go process”.
As a therapy student, I’m focusing on learning those “basic counseling skills” everybody talks about. In this series of posts, I hope to reflect on what I’m learning slowly week by week from an experiential rather than academic perspective. Therefore, I did a quick google search and am using three online PDF’s as a quick jumping off point. In this post, I will focus on empathy…
Empathy is derived from the German word “Einfuhlung” which directly translated means “one feeling”, (Pedersen, et al, 2008, p42). It can be thought of as “the ability to perceive another’s experience and then to communicate that perception back to the individual to clarify and amplify their own experiencing and meaning. It is not identifying with the patient or sharing similar experiences, not ‘I know how you feel’!” (Abraham Lincoln University, n.d., p. 5). In other words, empathy is a two-fold process that involves accuracy of perception and effectiveness of communication. Two big questions naturally loom in my mind:
FIRSTLY, How can we improve our ability to appreciate another person’s perspective, thoughts & feelings?
SECONDLY, What considerations need to be kept in mind to communicate this empathy effectively?
4/12/17 @ 2:30 p.m.
I’m in the car, dictating another post into my IPhone. A few thoughts have sprung to mind regarding the importance of empathy as a result of several events over the last several weeks…
Therapy seems to require a dialectical thought process of oppositional perspectives. We must discern diagnostically while remaining nonjudgmental empathetically. The process of diagnosis first requires the observational skills to develop a phenomenological diagnostic understanding. Then, in order to guide our progress an ever-changing case conceptualization provides an complex causal understanding.
In complete contradiction to this is the empathetic perspective which requires us to suspend judgment. In those moments, you are attending to the human being before you and simply honoring the validity of a person’s experiential reality with a goal of developing a deeper felt understanding of it. The divergent nature of these two simultaneous tasks makes the counseling process is oddly dualistic at times. As a newbie, I’m interested in getting down the basics.
How can I know if my understanding of the patient’s felt & experiential reality is correct??? How can I be sure that I’m adequately conveying this empathetic understanding??? Here are a few random thoughts:
Marsha Linehan on Suspension of Judgment
Within every definition of empathy, the suspension of judgment is highlight as an essential characteristic. Regarding the judgment suspension, I am reminded of something John Malkovich said once about characters and the importance of not judging them. As I’ve observed, this requires a constant questioning, do I understand everything? What am I missing? Where are my blind spots?
A great way to begin answering this question is to first examine those instances where I experienced a lack of empathy from others who were trying to be “helpful”
For example, in an earlier post I discussed an abusive and dysfunctional relationship in college. While I don’t tend to share this story often, it isn’t necessarily a secret. I have on a few select occasions shared this experiences with people. One response I real is: “why the hell did you put up with him for so long”, or “why didn’t you leave?” Then there are those who attempt to be sympathetic yet misconstrue my motives or very nature. The helpless victim who just lacks self-esteem.
All these responses fall short of the reality of things. The fact is, I was a child who had experienced chronic invalidation and shame growing up….
It comes down to something I heard John Malkovich say about creating characters. To do so successfully, you need to view them without judgment. Doing so requires that we – for a moment – set aside our preconceived notions, and see the world through their personally experienced reality. What would it be like, if you experienced chronic rejection, isolation, and invalidation as I had growing up? These experiences were so bad, I was parasuicidal, hanging on day by day, just promising myself to keep going.
I simply desperately sought validation & acceptance from someone as a way of avoiding the possibility of re-experiencing the hurt I had long ago…..
I would take promises of acceptance & validation (even if he never did deliver), like a carrot on a stick, over nothing at all.
Imagine yourself in my situation as a child, minus the judgment. There would be someone who had no other context in which to view herself than what others reflected to her. You would then be left with a one-sided view of yourself as a result of a lot of unhealed baggage. This would cause you to seek the first solution to avoid dealing with with the unresolved crap from your childhood.
The idea of re-experiencing the hurt similar to the childhood rejection in my childhood was overwhelming. I just couldn’t do it.
I would just like to conclude with some comments by Marsha Lenehan , founder of DBT. There is a quote from something she published on validating a person’s emotions when they are suicidal. This notion contradicts the sentiments of workers in the mental health care environment who all make a potion of telling you that what you did is wrong and you did a bad thing and you were wrong to do this. There is no one who is simply listening to what you’re saying and appreciating your story and how you feel without judgment that is the critical thing and the thing that often goes overlooked.
“Perhaps nowhere is the ability to empathize with another person more important than when one is interacting with a person who is on the brink of suicide. This is true whether one’s views one’s task as helping the individual choose continued living over suicide or, more rarely, as helping the individual make a wise chose between suicide and continued life. The ability both to hold a person within life, when that is needed, depend on an experiential appreciation of the other person’s worldview. Finding hidden or obscure ways out as well as seeing that there is no way out require both the ability and the willingness to fully enter the experience of the individual ready to suicide and, at the same time, not become that experience…In attempting to apply standard behavioral therapy to severely and chronically suicidal individuals…focusing on client change is often experienced as invalidating by clients who are in intense emotional pain…focusing on understanding in absence of a…efforts help the client change..is often experienced by these same clients as invalidating because it does not recognize the uninsurability….of the present unremitting pain…” (Linehan, 1997, p. 353-354).
Brene Brown on Empathy
In the above video, Brene Brown begins describing the difference between sympathy and empathy. As a fan of her work, I feel the need to include this brief view by her in this post. She states that empathy requires four critical factors: (1) Perspective taking, (2) remaining nonjudgmental, (3) recognizing the feeling in others and (4) effective communication of this effectively. In other words, empathy requires much more than putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we must be able to effectively communicate this to others. In the next section, we discuss how to communicate empathy effectively.
Rogers on Empathy
“I have come to believe that empathetic listening is one of the most powerful forces for growth that I know…. (Rutsch, 2015).“
“…When I can let myself enter the softly and delicately into the vulnerable inner world of the other person…(Rutsch, 2015).“
“…When I can temporarily lay aside my views and values and prejudices…(Rutsch, 2015).“
“…When I can let myself be at home in the fright, the concern, the pain, the anger, the tenderness, the confusion that fills their lives…(Rutsch, 2015).“
“…When I can move about in that inner world without making judgment…(Rutsch, 2015).“
“…When I can check the accuracy of my acceptance with him or her and be guided by the responses I receive…(Rutsch, 2015).“
“…Then I can be a companion to that person, pointing at the felt meanings of what is being experienced. Then I find myself to be a true helper…(Rutsch, 2015).“
As I stated earlier, empathy is a two-fold process that involves accuracy of perception & effectiveness of communication. In this section I’d like to begin by consider how to communicate it effectively. After reviewing old papers, I noticed there are two that discuss the effective communication of this concept. I include them below, for my own education / review….
PAPER #1 – Active Empathetic Listening
Active empathetic listening is defined as an “active and emotional involvement of a listener during a given interaction – an involvement that is conscious on the part of the listener but is also perceived.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p134). As a multidimensional concept involving sensing, processing, and responding, it isn’t enough to simply attentively listen and consciously process information. Affectively communicating this empathetic understanding is critical as well. With this in mind, what follows are key factors that are of a concern to this author from the standpoint of skill development.
Top-down processing is one of two forms of listening discussed in our course textbook. It involves the utilization of education and experience to contextualize the meaning of the communication with clients. It is a critical counterpoint to the bottom-up processing that exists as at a more automated level in which we respond to what is said at a face value (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135).
In fact, when considering the concept of top-down processing in the process of active empathetic listening, the author is reminded of a related concept: Inclusive Cultural Empathy. Discovered coursework elsewhere in this program, it is defined as “a dynamic perspective that balances both similarities and differences at the same time integrating skills developed to nurture a deep comprehensive understanding of the counseling relationship in its cultural context” (Pedersen, et al, 2008, p.41). In considering this concept as a part of the active empathetic listening process, it is clear to this author that such skills require an ongoing lifetime commitment to skill development and self-reflection.
Affect Tolerance & Mindfulness.
Two final concepts are of concern to this author as key skills in the active empathetic listening process. Firstly, our textbook describes affect tolerance as an ability to handle distressing emotions experienced vicariously through hearing the client’s story without “becoming engulfed” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p136). Alongside this concept, the textbook mentions the notion of meditation as an ongoing practice. Essential in paying attention more fully, when considering such factors the idea driven home is a realization that one gives to others based on who they are and not just what they do (Prout & Wadkins, 2014). With this in mind, much work on oneself is necessary and essential, as an ongoing process of growth and personal development.
Active-Empathetic Listening Scale
In this portion of the paper it is the goal of this author to review the Active-Empathetic Listening Scale discussed in our course textbook (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135). As per the instructions I am to rate “how frequently [I] perceive each of the following statements to be true for [me] on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (never or almost never) to 7 (always or almost always true).” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135)
“I am sensitive to what others are not saying.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135)– Based on an honest self-assessment I would rate myself around the 6-7 range.
“I am aware of what others imply but do not say.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – Very similar to the question above, I would also place myself around the 6-7 range, depending on circumstances and degree of personal stress.
“I understand how others feel.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – I rate myself at a 7 here. In fact the skill of affect-tolerance is an important skill for me as a result.
“I listen for more than just the spoken words.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – As a mother to a teenager, and CNA/Psych tech, I actually spend quite a bit of time doing this and would be around the 6-7 range.
“I assure others that I will remember what they say.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – As mentioned above, I spend the majority of my time caring for others. I’m constantly being asked to reassure others I’ll remember what they are requesting and/or desiring from me. In this respect I do this as well all day long, and would be around the 6-7 range.
“I summarize points of agreement and disagreement when appropriate.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – This factor doesn’t occur as much in the work context for me. In my personal life as much, (as I do agree it is a critical personal skill), I can at times get more caught up in making points than summarizing them. I would at about 5 here.
“I keep track of points others make.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – As stated above, I do need a bit more work here and would rate myself at about a 5.
“I assure others than I am listening by making verbal acknowledgements.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – As someone who cares for others, I do this all day long, and would be in the 6-7 range, in acknowledgement of the fact that nobody can ever be perfect.
“I assure others that I am receptive to their ideas.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – I the context of my work as a C.N.A./psych tech, I am often acting as an “ambassador”. On the one hand there are the needs of the client and on the other hand there are the parameters that need to be followed according with the doctors plan of care. Finally, the hospital has its rules that we all must follow such as visiting hours and no smoking. With this in mind, I also work to reassure clients of this fact, and do my best to advocate for their needs. Based on this fact I would rate myself in the 6-7 range.
“I ask questions that show my understanding of others’ positions.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – This skill isn’t utilized as much in the context of my job. While pretty good at it, I’m probably not as adept as in other areas and am about a solid 6.
“I show others that I am listening by my body language.” (Prout & Wadkins, 2014, p135) – With many stresses and demands in my life, I find my ability to care for others is often depleted by these things. While I am good at verbally showing that I listen and try my best, sometimes my body languages reflects my exhaustion and stress levels more than anything. I would rate myself at around a 5 here.
Effectiveness of Self-Rating
After completing this scale, it must be acknowledged that as a self-rating method the results are clearly skewed on that basis. How I think I may come across to others may not be the same as how they tend to experiential first-hand encounters of me. It would be interesting to have key individuals in my life review my answers and provide their own feedback. The ultimate conclusion likely made would be that I may not communicate my intentions as well as I hope to. Additionally, as I will discuss next, any plan for improvement must acknowledge the depth to which these skills exists as core elements of how we choose to be in the context of our lives. In this respect they really do require an ongoing commitment of personal growth and self-awareness as an lifelong process.
Plan for Improvement
In completing this assessment, this section briefly reviews my plan of improvement. It will combine insights from the scale above, with key skills this author feels are important.
GOAL ONE – Multicultural Competency. Culture exists as an unseen paradigm in our lives defining not just our values and beliefs, but patterns of thinking and overall affective style, (Hays, 2008). With this in mind, active empathetic listening, does require a skill described in literature as inclusive cultural empathy (Pedersen, et al, 2008). Making an ongoing commitment to the development of multicultural competency is critical with this in mind.
GOAL TWO – Mindfulness Practice & Self-Care. – The one biggest lesson from the self-rating scale its reaffirmation of the idea that self-care is critical. Being there for others requires that I be there for myself first so I have something to give. Alongside this notion, is the idea of a daily mindfulness meditative practice that can aide in reducing stress levels and still my busy mind.
GOAL THREE – Affect Tolerance. – It is natural, when encountering difficult emotions from others in the context of an interaction to take them in to a degree and personally experience them as well. We can take on some of the emotions of others and feel for them in an active empathetic sense. While clearly a good thing in some respects, over-identification is not healthy. This skill has been very critical in the acute mental health setting, and is one that requires much patience and active commitment to engage in at times.
GOAL FOUR – Seek Volunteer Experience for New Learning Opportunities. Yet another insight from the self-rating skill is the fact that certain elements of active empathetic listening are practiced more than others. When reflecting on the reasons underlying this, the hospital environment I work in, seems conducive to some forms of listening over others. Engaging in brief communication more often than lengthy discussion, certain skills aren’t practice as much. It would be necessary, therefore, to seek other volunteer opportunities to engage with clients in a different capacity than what I’m familiar with at work.
GOAL FIVE – Improve Listening Skills. Reviewing the basic listening and interviewing skills periodically, and being mindful of them as I engage with others, can be an effective way of learning to naturally incorporate them in the context of my interaction with others.
Paper #2 – Inclusive Cultural Empathy
Culture and Emotion
The singular most beneficial lesson throughout this course is the realization of how culture exists as an unseen paradigmatic influence in our lives. Definitive of our worldview, it represents a learned perspective that consists of instilled values, beliefs, and norms.
Beyond these obvious influences though, are less visible culturally impacted factors such as identity, emotion, and metacognition. Discussed often from a psychological, individually reductionist perspective, this paper will instead provide a unique sociocultural point-of-view of matters.
In determining the exact focus for this paper, I chose the topic of culture and emotion based on insights gained from the second exploratory paper activity. In the process of reviewing related literature for an interview with my mother, I came across the following:
“To the Filipino, actions always speak louder than words, so instead of conveying love and fondness with words, parents will endure extended periods of separation and/or hold down two jobs so that they can send their children to the best schools, pay for lessons and activities, and provide material support and other opportunities. This is the way they express their affection, and children are expected to recognize and value it. If they do not express or show appreciation, parents might perceive them as lacking utang na loob – serious infraction of social mores.” (Fortune, 2012, p12).
This quote manages to summarize a huge misunderstanding that existed between my mother and I throughout much of my childhood. As an American child, I failed to understand my Filipino mother’s expressions of love through action, (Fortune, 2012). Preferring to hear and witness outwardly visible affective indicators of her love, it was instead an unseen dedication to her duty as my mother. As I only am able to contextualize now, it seems the underlying the cultural gap between us, was the byproduct of a failure to acknowledge key differences among us. At the core of these differences were varied views of what it means to be a person in the world, and what perspective we are to take it in from.
With this in mind as the focus of the paper, I begin with a discussion of the concept of inclusive cultural empathy. This concept provides a view of empathy from a unique multicultural perspective. Understanding how this concept as it relates to the overall notion of culturally competent counseling is critical if I am to effectively communicate it in such a manner. Also included in this paper is a brief review of the relationship between emotions and culture, and concluding commentary on with how to incorporate these insights into my future career development.
Inclusive Cultural Empathy.
Empathy is derived from the German word “Einfuhlung” which directly translated means “one feeling”, (Pedersen, et al, 2008, p42). From this perspective, empathy can be thought of as an ability to understand another’s experiences as if they are your own. Best understood as an ability to relate to others due to shared experiences, the western Euro-American definitions predominating mental health are clearly problematic (Pedersen, et al, 2008). With traditional conceptions of empathy tending to reflect this cultural viewpoint, a more culturally inclusive perspective is vital. (Chung, 2002; Pedersen, et al, 2008). What follows is a definition of this concept from literature:
“Inclusive Cultural Empathy describes a dynamic perspective that balances both similarities and differences at the same time integrating skills developed to nurture a deep comprehensive understanding of the counseling relationship in its cultural context.” (Pedersen, et al, 2008, p.41)
In light of this definition, it is useful to note that providing empathy in a culturally relevant manner requires more than simply understanding. Adding to the ability to “put yourself in the clients shoes”, is the notion of being able to adeptly communicate this (Pedersen, et al, 2008). After all, as a shared experience the therapist communicates and the client experiences, this notion encompasses two often culturally diverse perspectives. With culture as the key divergent component it is important to understand its influences over our emotions and our preferred means of affective communication. Therefore before beginning to discuss inclusive cultural empathy as a component in multicultural counseling I will discuss research on the nature of emotion from both a cultural and biological perspective.
“Emotions can be defined as psychological states that comprise thoughts and feelings, physiological changes, expressive behaviors, and inclinations to act.” (Vohs, et al, 2007, p285). Overall, two divergent perspectives exist regarding research that focuses on the nature of emotion. Appraisal theories are based on the premise that emotions result from the way we appraise and interpret our environment. Research that utilizes this theoretical perspective focuses on culture and its influence over our manners of emotional regulation, perception and interpretation (Ellsworth, 1994). In contrast to this, categorical theories tend to view emotions as universal, innate and discrete. Focusing on basic emotions such as fear or sadness, research from this theoretical perspective tests the hypothesis that feelings are hardwired byproducts of neural programming. (Ellsworth, 1994, p28).
Then & Now.
In reviewing literature for this paper, I found it interesting that research seemed to reflect the field’s developmental history overall. Based upon a predominantly westernized Euro-American perspective, the mental health field historically focused on DSM-based empirical data (Hays, 2008; Pedersen, et al, 2008). Along the way, notions such as social context and cultural relativitism seem to have been forgotten until recently. Interestingly, it seems the meaning of empathy in literature has undergone a shift in definitive focus reflecting these changes:
“The underlying assumptions about psychology are moving from a mono-cultural to a multicultural basis with profound consequences for counseling. The old rules of psychology focused on dissonance reduction. The new rules focus on the tolerance of ambiguity.” (Pedersen, et al, 2008, p224)
As per this historical shift, I begin with a review of biological perspectives of emotions, and then discuss emotions in relation to culture. I will then conclude by reviewing inclusive theories providing insights from both perspectives.
Emotion: A Biological View.
Universality Thesis. Some research exists that focuses on a limited number of innate and universal emotions as “basic” in nature. (Ellsworth, 1994). Described as matters of neural programming hardwired into the species overall, this research reflects a “Universality Thesis of Emotions.” (Effenbein & Ambady, 2002). While still asserting some degree of cultural variation this perspective stresses the universality to facial expressions in relation to basic emotions across culture. (Ellsworth, 1994; Ekman & Friesen, 1971). Referred elsewhere as categorical theories, research utilizing this perspective comprises the following key propositions: “(1) universality of facial movement as a form of emotional expression, (2) universality of attribution and understanding of key facial expressions, and (3) an associated rate of correctness regarding these attributions across culture” (Russell, 1994).
Examples of Studies. In one study by researchers Ekman & Friesen, the universality of facial expressions across cultures, was examined (Ekman & Friesen, 1971). Using samples of individuals from cultures with little exposure to western society, research results supported their hypothesis, (Ekman & Friesen, 1971). Nonetheless, it is important to note in this research that “The growing body of evidence of pancultural element in emotional facial behavior does not imply the baselessness of cultural differences” (Ekman & Friesen, 1971).
While this study exists as an example of research that predominated the field prior to its focus on multicultural competency, recent literature focuses on contextualize these results. For example, Elfenbein & Ambady in 2002 re-examine the universality of emotional recognition, (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002). In this study, it is found that while emotions were universally recognized, varied degrees of accuracy were noted. With greater in-group accuracy in expression and recognition, an advantage was also seen in culturally diverse settings (Effenbein & Ambady, 2002). Also notable was the fact that minority groups displayed greater degrees of accuracy in recognizing emotions from majority groups, as opposed to the other way around, (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002).
Emotion: A Cultural Perspective.
Appraisal Theories. Appraisal theories of emotions interpret emotions as byproducts of the way people interpret and understand their environment, (Ellsworth, 1994). Research utilizing this theoretical perspective has traditionally focused on a few key dimensions such as: (1) individualism/collectivism, (2) certainty/uncertainty (3) Attention to Novelty (4) Valence/Degree of Perceived Pleasantness, (Ellsworth, 1994). Differences in emotional expression are largely attributed to emotional regulation, stating that culture defines the beliefs about appropriateness of emotional expression. Accounting for differences in understanding of emotional expression, the assertion is made that culture “provides a framework for understanding culturally general emotional phenomena,” (Ellsworth, 1994). With this as a quick and dirty overview of current research from this perspective, what follows are key insights I found particularly intriguing.
Emotion as a Social Function. Emotions function as cultural scripts that are comprised of an array of biological and cultural factors, (Kitayama & Markus, 1994). Developed as a result of individual, interpersonal and collective experiences, they represent culturally constructed adaptations to our surroundings. In this respect emotions are a “psychological process that may be seen primarily as social and cultural in nature” (Kityama & Markus, 1994):
Emotion as a Perceptual Process. When viewed within the context of a perceptual process, emotions can be seen as a level of readiness in response to immediate events (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994). For example, individuals experience emotions in response to events they encounter that are deemed significant. This significance is determined by the manner in which this situation is then appraised. This form of appraisal exists as a byproduct of both individual temperament and cultural influences. Culturally this appraisal reflects a system of meanings that are social in origin. Emotion then can be seen as a form of readiness to act, that reflects norms of expression based on cultural imbued interpretations (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994).
Emotion From a Goffmanesque Perspective. Yet another perspective of emotions can been seen when taken in the context of social interaction. From this perspective they aren’t internal affective states influenced by cognition but a form of interaction with others and our surroundings. (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994). For example, witnessing emotional displays in others can be viewed as a social event. In expressing these feelings we “transmit important messages about ourselves in relation to our surroundings” (Leu, 2001). When we then interpret someone’s behavior we do so within the framework of norms regarding behavior, and cultural meaning systems. As a result of this event appraisal and the emotional responses we can then respond accordingly. Emotion in this respect contains five characteristics reflective of culture including: “1. quality, 2. intensity, 3. behavioural expression, 4. the manner in which they are managed and 5. Organization.” (Leu, 2001) This all occurs within what may be called a cultural framework defined as follows:
“A cultural framework includes a group’s sense of and attitudes toward emotions, that is what emotions are or feelings are, why they are experiencing, and what their significance is in social life, as well as the implicit answers to questions like when does one feel, where does one feel, and how does one feel.” (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994, p.99)
Culture & Biology: An Integrated Perspective.
In pulling together the insights from all of the above research, it seems to me all of the insights above play a part as elemental insights into what makes us work as humans. In other words, there are both biological and cultural factors that exist in influencing emotions. What follows is an example of research that considers particular/cultural factors, alongside the universal/biological ones.
Affect Valuation Theory. In an article titled, “Cultural Variation in Affect Valuation”, a key differentiation is made between ideal and actual affect, (Tsai & Fung, 2006). Whereas our ideal affect reflects what we want to feel, our actual affect reflects our current emotional state. Based on the Affect Valuation Theory this research hypothesizes a difference between ideal and actual affect with greater cultural influence on ideal affect preferences, (Tsai & Fung, 2006).
With results of the study supporting their hypothesis, a brief example is provided that compares collectivist and individualistic cultures. With an individualistic cultural orientation likely to endorse values such as elation and excitement, participants from such cultures are likely to express this as an ideal affect orientation (Tsai & Fung, 2006) In contrast to this, collectivist cultures value a calm peaceful and relaxed state and participants are likely to endorse these as ideal affect preferences (Tsai & Fung, 2006).
As an interesting side note to this, it may be useful to mention the Marsha Linehan’s research that focuses on the concept of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I learned about this theory while in therapy myself. Differentiating between primary and secondary emotions as a way of better understanding our emotions, it is a useful application to the above research.
While primary emotions comprise our immediate reactions to an event, our secondary emotions are aessentially our own interpretations of our emotional states. In other words, secondary emotions exist as “feelings about our feelings”. Utilizing the above research as an example, individuals from a collectivist culture would display more negative reactions to their own displays of excitement as a result of their own cultural references.
Empathy & Multicultural Counseling.
“Empathy has been described as the counselor’s ability to enter the client’s world, to feel with the client rather than for the client, and to think with the client rather than for or about the client. Empathy requires the therapist’s ability and effort to place him- or herself symbolically in the position of the client and understand the client’s world, “(Chung & Bernak, 2002, p154).
After a brief review of relevant literature on the nature of emotion and its relation to culture, a clearer understanding of inclusive cultural empathy seems vital. What follows is a bit of clarification on the concept, and how it fits in within the concept of cultural competency.
Clarifying the Concept.
Defined as an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathy is a culturally relevant concept. Traditional perspectives of empathy are naturally self-limiting, based on a perspective that is largely empirical and individualistic in orientation. In contrast, culturally inclusive empathy is a useful dynamic perspective that requires two seemingly divergent viewpoints. Essentially, this concept requires that a counselor hold onto their own cultural perspective while maintaining an appreciation for their client’s culture (Chung & Bernak, 2002). Ensuring the counselor holds onto their own cultural perspective can be a useful and essential assurance against potential countertransference (Chung & Bernak, 2002) At the same time, appreciating and understanding a client’s culture is critical in the difference between sympathy and empathy (Chung & Bernak, 2002). With this clarification in mind, what follows are key recommendations for the development of inclusive cultural empathy.
Developing Inclusive Cultural Empathy.
It seems in reviewing all of the above research, the best advice I found to develop inclusive cultural empathy existed as a reiteration of what I learned in this course. Essentially, two bits of advice stand as key insights I intend to utilize in moving forward. I discuss these each in turn below.
Attitudes, Knowledge, & Skills.The concept of inclusive cultural empathy can best be understood as a dynamic process that exists as an exchange between client and counselor, (Pedersen, et al, 2008). It comprises three key skills: Affective Acceptance, Intellectual Understanding, & Appropriate Interaction (Pedersen, et al, 2008). With intellectual understanding best understood as a knowledge of similarities and differences, it is an essential to note this is not enough in and of itself. Affective acceptance requires that a counselor acknowledge culturally learned assumptions underlying divergent forms of affective communication (Pedersen, et al, 2008). Finally, effectively communicating this means developing key interactive skills and abilities through ongoing direct contact within the community (Pedersen, et al, 2008). It is interesting to note that this discussion reflected much of what discussed in the class handout titled, “AMCD Multicultural Counseling Competencies” (Arredondo, et al, 1996).
An Ecclectic MAP/FACTS Approach. Alongside this ongoing commitment to the development of key skills as they relate to inclusive cultural empathy, is the need to utilize what our textbook describes as an eclectic approach, (Hays, 2008, p176):
“Eclecticism in psychotherapy can take two general terms. The first involves an integration of diverse theories into one transtheoretical mode. The second, known as technical eclecticism, describes the increasingly common practice of systematically choosing and using a wide range of interventions and procedures.” (Hays, 2008, p176)
Firstly utilizing the “Addressing Model” in a modified Axis-6 relevant to the DSM-5 (Hays, 2008), it will be essential to assess for sociocultural context throughout the counseling process, (Hays, 2008). Additionally, ongoing case conceptualization in the form of ongoing hypothesis formulation and testing will be important (Johnson, 2013; Pedersen, et al, 2008; Thomas 2007). This ongoing hypothesis testing can occur much as described in the five-part FACTS Method approach including question formulation based on a knowledge and experience, and then assessing and adjusting as necessary, (Hays, 2008; Johnson 2013; Pedersen, et al, 2008; Thomas, 2007). In conclusion, I wrap up this paper with a quote from an article titled “The relationship of culture and empathy in cross-cultural counseling.” (Chung & Bemak, 2002) This article contains a listing of seven useful guidelines in communicating cultural empathy:
“Counselors will not be effective working with clients from different cultural backgrounds if they cannot communicate cultural empathy in a way that demonstrates that they understand and appreciate the cultural differences and their impact on the therapeutic process. Ridley (1995) identified the following seven guidelines for communicating cultural empathy….(a) describe in words to the client his/her understanding of the client’s self-experience; (b) communicate an interest in learning more about the client’s culture; (c) express lack of awareness regarding the client’s cultural experience; (d) affirm the client’s cultural experience; (e) clarify language and other mods of cultural communication; (f) communicate a desire to help the client work through personal struggles and challenges; and, (g) at an advanced level, help the client learn more about himself or herself and become more congruent.” (Chung & Bemak, 2002, p157)
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124-129. Retrieved from: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0030377
Elfenbein, H.A., & Ambady, N. (2002) On the Universality and Cultural Specificity of Emotion Recognition: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. 128(2). 203-235.
Ellsworth, P. C. (1994). Sense, culture, and sensibility. In S. Kitayama, & H. R. Markus (Eds.), Emotion and culture: Empirical studies of mutual influence. (pp. 23-50) American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10152-001
Fortune, B. V. (2012). Acculturation, intergenerational conflict, distress and stress in Filipino -American families. (Order No. 3535626, Regent University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 115-n/a. Retrieved from: http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1283231958?accountid=28125. (1283231958).
Frijda, N. H., & Mesquita, B. (1994). The social roles and functions of emotions. In S. Kitayama, & H. R. Markus (Eds.), Emotion and culture: Empirical studies of mutual influence. (pp. 51-87) American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10152-002
Hays, P. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice. (2nd Ed.) Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Johnson, R. (2013) Forensic and Culturally Responsive Approach for the DSM-5: Just the FACTS. Journal of Theory Construction & Testing, 17(1), 18-22.
Kemper, T. D. (1981). Social Constructionist and Positivist Approaches to the Sociology of Emotions. American Journal Of Sociology, 87(2), 336-362.
Kitayama, S., & Markus, H. R. (1994). Introduction to cultural psychology and emotion research. In S. Kitayama, & H. R. Markus (Eds.), Emotion and culture: Empirical studies of mutual influence. (pp. 1-19) American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10152-010
Klafehn, J., Chenchen, L, & Chi-yue, C. (2013). To know or not to know, is that the question? Exploring the role and assessment of metacognition in cross-cultural contexts. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 44(6). 963-991.
Leu, C.M. (2001). Emotions as Dynamic Cultural Phenomena. The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education, 4. 62-75.
Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and Psychotherapy. In A. Bohard & L. Greenber (Eds.) Empathy Reconsidered: New Directions in Psychothrerapy. Washington DC: AC 352-392.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1994). The cultural construction of self and emotion: Implications for social behavior. In S. Kitayama, & H. R. Markus (Eds.), Emotion and culture: Empirical studies of mutual influence. (pp. 89-130) American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10152-003
Pedersen, P. B., Crethar, H. C., & Carlson, J. (2008). Inclusive cultural empathy: Making relationships central in counseling and psychotherapy (1st ed.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/11707-003
Prout, T.A., & Wadkins, M.J. (2014). Esssential Interviewing and Counseling Skills. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Russell, A.J. (1994). Is There Universal Recognition of Emotion from Facial Expression? A Review of the Cross Cultural Studies. Psychologial Bulletin 115(1). 101-141.
Sherer, K.R. (1997). The Role of Culture in Emotion-Antecedent Appraisal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 73(5). 902-922.
Thomas, J. C., Hersen, M., Sage eReference (Online, s. (Online service), & Sage Publications, i. (2007). Handbook of Clinical Interviewing with Adults. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Tsai, J.L, Knutson, B., Fung, H.H., (2006). Cultural Variation in Affect Valuation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 90(2). 288-307. Retrieved from: http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/131977868 0?accountid=28125
Vohs, K.D., Baumeister, R.F., & Sage Productions, i. (2007). Encyclopedia of Social Psychology. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Productions.
A male friend told me once that I looked like Joey Ramone because of my long black hair, glasses, & large nose. Our friendship began somewhat incidentally in the waiting room of a job service agency where he struck up a conversation. On his way out he asked for my number. We went on a couple of dates but it didn’t really go anywhere. He had gotten out of a bad relationship & I was trying to recover from the “it years”.
It was the mid-90’s and we were both in our 20’s: no longer kids but not quite adults. As was the case for many of my generation, we completed our college degrees only to find ourselves no better off financially. I held a variety of secretarial positions while he worked in retail. Dead broke with no promising career options, we hung out a lot simply to curb the occasional bouts loneliness.
It’s been years since we’ve spoken. We grew apart because in time, I started to feel like his mom. He would come over and raid my fridge and use my washing machine. Or stop by to borrow a “few bucks”. When we would actually hang out, I would have to hear his long and often complicated dating stories. He reminded me of Jack Black in that Shallow Hal movie.
“You know all the guys on the floor are telling me I should dump you for the girl with the huge tits.” He informs me of this in the weeks and months after I lose my virginity to him. I am insecure and desperate for acceptance, love, and belonging. He said I was just average looking: about five, (six on a good day). He said my breasts were too small and wanted me to get implants. I had scrawny chicken legs, an ugly nose and horrible hair. On top of that, I had no sense of style and was more ‘”inexperienced” than the other women he cheated on me with. In short, I was a pathetic charity case…
A desire to avoid re-experiencing the pain of rejection from my child was so strong while I was in this relationship. It overcame logic or sensibility. The only thing I could see was anxiety and panic, nothing else was able to filter inward. I needed to avoid rejection – it was just too hard….
As women, we are all made to face a world that assigns us value based on an array of random qualities which happen to define our meat suit. As someone who falls within the “have not” category, there is still quite of unresolved bitterness I need to work through. The above video reflects fairly accurately how I’ve adjusted to this reality.
“Seriously? What the fuck is fuckable?? I don’t know if I can answer that question for you, but I can share my own experience. When I was 19 or so, I was standing in a Starbucks in West Hollywood with a director, talking about the upcoming film we were about to shoot. It had been a long road, but we had finally made it. Waiting for our coffee, I could see that he seemed a bit uneasy. I asked him if everything was ok. He said yes. I didn’t believe him, so I asked him again. He looked at me and said “Heather, I’m sorry, we have to give your role to another actor. The producers don’t want you.” I didn’t understand. I had been attached to this project for two years, and now two weeks before filming, I’m being let go. I asked him why. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “They say you’re not fuckable.” Well, fuck me. Even as I write this, I can still feel the pain, shame, and humiliation that came over me in that moment. This is a part that I had been so excited to play. She was bold, witty, sarcastic, sexy, but more importantly, she had a deeper vulnerability underneath. She had layers, she was complex. (Matarazzo, 2015, February, 6).”
A second online story that resonates with my experience comes from an anonymous post on reddit by a woman who describes the typical experience of the average “less-than” girl who is occasionally reminded of her inherent meat-suit based value.
“I am an ugly woman. Objectively, I really am. Please don’t argue with me on this one, Reddit. I am not overweight, actually in better shape than most women my age, I dress well, I am great with makeup. But last weekend the world just had to remind me that despite all this, people will go out of their way to kick me….There was a photographer going around the club, taking pictures of the people there. I assume it was for some promo for their website or something. He got to our group, and literally circled us several times, taking several pics from different angles. I was kind of psyched about this, so I did my best to look like I was having a good time, made sure he could snap me at my best. But after a while I realized he wasn’t circling us to get our best angles. He was trying to get a frame without ME. If I moved closer to the center of the group, for instance, he would tilt his camera a little the other way. I couldn’t believe it until finally, he actually came up to me and asked me to get out of the shot….I felt so ugly right then. For all the effort I had put into looking and feeling good that night, it seemed like it just didn’t matter. So the night ends with me leaving the club. My friend with the bf at home who was dancing with me left with me so I wouldn’t be alone. The rest of my girl friends didn’t notice what had happened with the photographer, so when they asked me where I was going I just told them I was tired and wanted to go home. And since I wasn’t leaving alone, they let me.” throwmeaway4352 (n.d.)
A consistent diet of put-downs and abusive behavior is what it took for my insecurities to become certainties…
My first boyfriend was the first one to make me aware that my meat suit defined my social value in today’s world. He told me repeatedly that I was an ugly, and therefore, a “charity case”. This was a painful punch in the gut much as Heather Matarazzo describes. I was forced to face then that a world existed beyond what I create inside my head that evaluated me harshly against a physical beauty standard. It was this standard of physical beauty that assigned me a value of me based on the random factors that defined my meat suit. As I grew to appreciate the ramifications of this my self esteem crumbled.
Within my mind, there was a slow and gradual erasure of any remaining awareness of inner beauty, until it was completely gone.
So why am I writing this post???
I want to stress here, that this post isn’t about bitterness. I admit there has been a bit of pissing and moaning occasionally on this blog. However, the goal of this blog post isn’t to feel sorry for myself. If I had to summarize all my life experiences and professional education into one critical insight, it would the following:
We become what we believe we are and get what we believe is possible.
This life lesson is summarized excellently in a series of videos on youtube based on books by Shel Silverstein. Many of life’s problems can be attributed to how we are looking at things and not what we are viewing as the cause of our issues. Gaining clarity in life takes a lot of work. For the majority of us, it isn’t we’re “north of 40” that we can begin to feel an appreciable sense of clarity. It is for this reason, that I believe youth is a vastly overrated experience.
I’m sincerely grateful to have made it to be where I am, and have absolutely no desire to wind back the clock of time…..
So, here is the purpose of this post: To Get Real w/ Myself.
Lesson #1: Bullshit is Infectious.
In a previous, I discuss the concept of self-deception as the perplexing ability we have to lie to ourselves, while not noticing we do so:
Bullshit is infectious & needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion In the previous section, I provide examples of unseen aspects of social experience. When you examine these unseen things closely you find that self-deception can become shared. Others’ bullshit ideas, when unexamined, can become our bullshit ideas. Bullshit is infectious and needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion.
Lesson #2: Life is Unfair. Deal with it.
There is a definite social reality which exists, that no amount of intellectual gymnastics can erase entirely. It is true that within the minds of many, this meat suit, is an indelible fact. We are reduced to an idea which doesn’t do justice to the reality of who we are. This “less-than-ness” is painful simply because it is a perception based on bullshit while carrying a life of its own – independent of who we are. I need to accept that there are many people who can’t see beyond my meat suit. However, I must also acknowledge the fact that what I focus upon emotionally expands. For example, when I read stories such as the ones above, emotions bubble up inside. However, while I am aware of these feelings, I do not ruminat over them endlessly. This will decimate many of life’s possibilities and my true inner potential.
(((If you don’t understand what I’m saying, re-watch the missing piece videos))) There’s that part in the first video, where that Pacman dude sets down the pie thingie. That action is huge. It is an act of realizing that he’s running on a hamster wheel, perpetuating bullshit by mindlessly consuming the ideas fed to him by others. Set the missing piece down, and walk away. It does not hold the answers. Like Dorothy and the Ruby Slippers, you hold the solution and just need to believe in yourself.
Lesson #3: Understand Society’s Motives
I don’t want to get too nerd-girl-ish but system’s theory is a useful perspective with which to understand society’s motives for assigning value to women based on the meat suit. In a recent post I state the following:
Systems Theory can be thought of as a lens through which to view the relational processes of individuals and the significant others with whom they interact in their attempts to derive meaning and construct an identity. (Curtis & McPherson, 2000, p50)…hat is first notable about systems theory is its view of individuals as a subsystem within a larger subsystem (Arthur & McMahon, 2005). If one were to provide a diagrammatic picture of this theory, they would draw a series of concentric circles. With a picture that looks much like a target, each level, can be thought of as a subsystem within a subsystem. The individual is a system that exists within microsystems such as family, peers, or work environment. These microsystems, then exist within a larger ecosystem that can be thought of as society at large. How does this relate to counseling practice? Essentially it calls for an understanding of individuals holistically, people aren’t beings unto themselves, but parts of a larger whole (Curtis & McPherson, 2000, p50)
Basically this theory notes how individual’s cannot be understood independent of the social worlds they reside within. Individuals and societies are interdependent concepts in the sense that the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. When stable, a state of homeostasis exists.
The point is, society and its members work together to perpetuate a system of beliefs upon which our culture and society are built. If you take away the belief system or question it, the entire foundation upon which society is built crumbles. It is important to aware, the valuation processes upon which women are evaluated, are simply social constructs that tend to act as the basis of the “game of life”. They are essential for a social homeostasis, that many defend unquestioningly. They aren’t fact, they are simply the rules of the game. How is it you are choosing to participate???
My husband complains often that our 18 years together still can’t compete with what some assholes said to me umpteen years ago. He says he truly loves me as I am. He sees me as beautiful and doesn’t understand why those words from so long ago can affect me so profoundly today. As my “partner in crime” he calls me out on my bullshit. I use my past experiences as an excuse for why I don’t work through this issue.